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On this week's installment of Next Line, Please, the challenge to write poems “in the manner of” something abstract provoked a great many poems of interest. Poets wrote in the manner of the year of their birth (Elizabeth Knapp, Ravindra Rao), a Chopin piano sonata (Michael C. Rush), a hotel room (Christine Rhein), a speech by John F. Kennedy (J. F. (Jeff) McCullers), a travelogue (David Kibner), an episode of Alfred Hitchock Presents (Keith Barrett), the “muse as a real-estate agent” (Steve Bellin-Oka), and the “androgynous” style (Angela Ball), among other inventive choices, flooded the comment field. Below are some of the best. Pamela Joyce’s poem “The Imprisoners—After Rodin’s Thought (portrait of Camille Claudel)” was a total crowd pleaser: This, I know now, is how you wanted me. Voiceless, visionless, motionless. Less. Absent hands and agency, perpetually cool, translucent, smooth—a perfectly formed measure of your meticulous tools, at the pleasure of your chisel. And when I refused the discarded shards and shadows, when I emerged your virile rival, you turned me into stone and let the malevolent poet lock me in a tomb, a passing thought, an interrupted waltz, a monument to madness. David Kibner’s “Travelogue” is proof that the comic in poetry can also be heavy. The poem moves from a compelling description to lively literary specifics and the music of names. As for me, you gotta love those internal rhymes: The beauty of the places I went to comes second to the things I did such as when I rubbed elbows with Rimbaud rode Melville’s pelvis harpooned Djuna Barnes spanked Apollinaire’s petard but I must remain mum about all the things I did with a sullen William Cullen I’ve written songs in my head I will not sing, though I’m happy to hum Once again, the beauty of the places comes second to the things that were done, whether it was stroking Shelley’s belly or fondling Keats’s teats but you’ll never see the details spilled out on a broadsheet of everything, or any part of what was so main eventfully done with a defiant William Bryant Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post, and look out for more "poems in the manner of" and a new prompt next week! Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Last week's post of Next Line, Please (poems inspired by a poet or poem from the past) left us with a little bit of a ghost, a shadow, something to be said. In other words, we knew what we were in for this week, and we were hungry for it! I am happy to report, that this part two post delivers. Let's get down to the poetry: Jane Keats’s inspiration appears to be based on Robert Burns (“My love is like a red, red rose”) mixed up with Gertrude Stein (“rose is a rose is a rose”): My rose is the violet of roses for my whosis. My lover is the invisible inviolate of the violent night’s noses. You know I speak true, Miss. My violet is the violet of vivid lovely violets. My rose is the violet of roses. Donald LaBranche’s “The Shade of Ash Trees” is a powerful piece of writing: The power company men are here to cut the trees that the ash-borers and woodpeckers have killed. Some went to the saw mill, some went to heat the house. Some of the ash fed the forge fires of Haephaestus, Some became strips of paper in Keats’ coat pocket. A small chunk became a totem in an artist’s house. Among the five elements, earth produces growth mixed with wood; metal glows white hot when kissed by fire; and water holds them all in place to build you a house. Ash trees grew right up the barbed wire where the stream feeds that end of the meadow. A rear guard of them spreads out over ten acres to surround the house. The County wants to bring dozers in for a road so the neighbors can live there and raise their livestock. The borers’ work will never be done in their house. Sometimes people like me stand in these woods, trembling. Mostly, it’s in winter. Mostly, like deer, we’re harmless; living in the shade of ash trees like it’s a house. Now, next week's prompt takes the ghostly companion to a different level. Instead of another writer, we will be writing in the manner of a time period, a place, an item. For next week then, please write a poem “in the manner of”... a friendly poker game, a gothic romance, a Chopin piano sonata (no. 2, for example), a garment of which you are fond, or of the year in which you were born. Fourteen lines or less. How you construe “in the manner of” is entirely up to you. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the whole post and to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week's visit to the world of Next Line, Please was not only a mini anthology of masterful poems, but a tender gaze into the beauty of poetry. Mr. Lehman's write-up of the conversational history of poems and the ways in which poetry leans on, reinvents, and inspires its writers. "Every new poem exists in relationship to the poetry that preceded its existence," says Mr. Lehman. Due to the high turnout of high quality pieces, this week's post aims to show us a handful of poems, with the rest to be seen next week. Here are a couple: First by Andrei Codrescu, who created the “ghostly companion” prompt, and, on our doings, promptly decided to join the fray with something we highly suspect to be a shadow of John Ashbery: Looking Up Under the grove the tunnel sings to itself waiting for you to say I’ll do what the raids suggest, Dad, and that other livid window the door will not have track with or the broom beside it. But the tide pushes an awful lot of monsters including the meteor on television with whom there was no intercourse. And I think that’s my true fate. It had been raining. It had not been raining. Dog heads on the railing. As far as the eye will care to go. Far enough is plenty. No one could begin to clean this particular mess. There are no maids on Friday. There isn’t even beef. Lightning lay down zigzags on the procession. Thunder lay down in the heart. Don’t take it personally. “My friend, I am the first transistor in this peeling yellow barn.” “My child, I love any vast electrical disturbance.” “My people what are you doing before the closed chambers?” Disturbance! Couldn’t the old men just give it up? By night it charged over the plains bursting its wineskin on the Midwest. It drove from Dallas and Oregon. Always wither, Why not now? The electrical age isn’t over but its ambulances race with the electrocuted to the offshore oil well from cloud to cloud with old men’s beards and rages. The flood in the invulnerable age. Minuscule flag of observer. Second, from Pamela Joyce, who tells us that her “Covenant” takes its point of departure from Louise Gluck’s “Elms.” Here is “Covenant”: All night I try to extinguish sparks from the fire. Adrift in our ark I fear the parting or pairing of us— the charred bits and ashes we would pause to ponder, overlooking the dry rot at the helm that’s been your egress, that equates the foment of coke and oxy with love. And I have understood three times that burnt offering— the singed dove returning to your storm. Visit the American Scholar's page to be enchanted by the full post, and tune in next week for more great poems and a brand new prompt! Continue reading
Posted Jun 30, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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In Andrei Codrescu's book, The Poetry Lesson, the poet draws upon one of his many interesting teaching strategies to produce a unique sort of assignment. He assigns each student a “ghostly companion”—a poet, any poet, with whom the student may pretend to have a secret connection. Taking after Codrescu, Dr. Lehman proposes that we adopt this idea, but instead of taking an assignment, each of us gets to choose his or her own companion using the criteria of your choice. Maybe you find a poet with your same birthday, someone you love or someone you hate, someone whose name begins with the same letter as yours. Once you have chosen the identity of your ghost, choose a poem by that person and do a radical revision, one in which the reader won't be able to tell that there was any antecedent. One way to accomplish this is to print out the chosen poem in triple-space, and write your own poem between the lines. Or, you can choose to argue with the original text. We here at Next Line, Please say, why not? With one special rule, which is to not tell us who your companion is or what poem you used for inspiration. On the following week, everyone will be expected to reveal the identity of the GC and the title of the poem you chose. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post, and to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Jun 20, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week on Next Line, Please, David Lehman invited everyone to "go to town" with their favorite clichés, offering up two well known sayings: “Long Story Short” and “I could be wrong.” Ordinarily, we writers try to stay away from clichés and to come up with new and unique ways of describing the things we see and feel, but the contributors of Next Line, Please, inspired by this most interesting prompt, have proven to me that clichés can still be served fresh. Timothy Sandefur's “Short long story” turns the villanelle form on it's head, while also playing with the arrangement of the cliché phrases: I knew the story’d be a little long. The old man seemed to lose his way at times. He was in his 80s? Could be wrong; don’t think he said. Told me he’d belonged to the Air Force—this was at the time when it was still the Army—that was long ago. He was young, had never gone anywhere past the county line before. Now in Rome—no, I’m wrong; Berlin? Anyway, he wrote his mom or girlfriend just a couple lines, always kept it cheerful, not too long, not too detailed; told them bombs sounded like old tractors. He would sign off jauntily. Maybe it was wrong not to tell them more? Sounding strong with brevity? Then he paused, and I made some excuse to leave. He died—a long story—shortly after? Could be wrong. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post! And stay tuned for another great prompt. Continue reading
Posted Jun 13, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week, David Lehman promised us a new prompt that was sure to be clever, artful, interesting, and smart. After a few thoughts on John Ashbery, who often used clichés in his work, but complicated or enriched them by turning them on their heads, Mr. Lehman proposed the following: For next week, write a poem which plays with one of two clichés: the notorious "long story short," shortened from the original "to make a long story short"; or, the very cheeky, "I could be wrong, but..." For the first, you might consider using it as a title, or as a repeated phrase, or, you might choose to break it up and write a poem that includes the words “long,” “story,” and “short” throughout. For the second, you might consider writing a stanza of six lines ending with the line "but I could be wrong," and submitting it forth as a part of a collaborate effort. Ah, what a wonderful day to have thought of John Ashbery, whose poem, "A Train Rising Out of the Sea" appeared to me on the uptown A train this afternoon in the New York City's "Poetry in Motion" collection. It was, of course, excerpted (a long story short), but all the more perfect for a partly cloudy day in June. Visit the American Scholar's page for more inspiration and to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Jun 5, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week on Next Line, Please the notoriously clever David Lehman proposed two of Anna Kamienska’s aphorisms—“Sleep is what I’ll miss most when I die,” and “I walk around disguised as an overweight old lady”—as possible springboards for poems, and the contributors of Next Line, Please did wonders with this tasty piece of bait. “What I’ll miss most when I die” inspired Patricia Wallace’s “Homage to Kamienska,” which won plaudits and praise from some of our most discerning readers: When I am dead I’ll miss the fox who took up residence in my skull and listened for the scurry of mouse feet under the many layers of snow on my heart, and the owl asking “who,” perched on the stones of my spine. I’ll miss the hummingbirds migrating between my ribs, their small hearts beating so fast I thought that mine had stopped. I’ll miss the fish swimming my body’s waters searching a way to the sea, the hare unrepentently nibbling my pelvic meadows, the fireflies lighting candles in the chambers of my ears, the chameleon lizards lazily sunning themselves on the stations of my shoulder blades. How surprised they will be, these small creatures, for whom time moves more slowly, to find the doors closing and all trace of inhabitants gone. “Tourist Trap” by Ed Keller responds to the second side of the prompt—“I walk around disguised as an overweight old lady.” I walk around disguised as a tourist even though I’m from here Wardrobe pieced together from airport to downtown souvenir shop I carry a bag from one of these places as though I just came from there I suppose it increases my chances of being targeted by people who look for someone to take advantage of In fact I know it does Little do they know, until the bag is opened, that this is not simply a fashion statement or an unconscious reflection of my own mediocrity This is the look of a villain killer For I am living bait. And next, a personal favorite, a poem offered by a poet who goes by Byron: I walk around disguised as a fat man with a club foot, or a bag lady in the lift going down, or a bag man delivering hundred dollar bills in an old-fashioned medical bag to the future mayor of Los Angeles. Only in my sleep do I walk around undisguised, naked, twenty years old. And last but not least, springing from Kamienska “sleep” epigraph, David Lehman’s poem “The Dark Horse” which was made better by the poetic think tank that is NLP: Chances are, I will miss nothing. Death like good fortune comes when you’re least ready or you’ve given up on it. My definition of Zen is you get what you want when you no longer want it. Death comes as an even greater surprise than risking fifty thousand bucks on the dark horse in the Belmont and winning. And if the long shot comes through and there’s an afterlife, I... Continue reading
Posted May 30, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week on Next Line, Please, contributors were tasked with a formidable concept: the creation of a new hero. Lord Byron begins Don Juan, his comic masterpiece, with the lines “I want a hero, an uncommon want, / When every year and month sends forth a new one.” These are the heroes the writers of Next Line, Please came up with. Donald LaBranche wants a hero that can do algebra and write poetry, the head and the heart all in one! A hero from the border lands between poetry and algebra: some stone-hearted, scat singing daughter of a catbird from a long-suffering, secretive brood of Quebecois should be just the ticket. And she’s on the way, so I’ve heard. Third row back from the front of the train, bringing a coup d’état to restore what passes for order out of this crazy. And afterward will surely come hearings on her provenance, talk radio doubt about a hero in the first place. Then, time for the mob to run her out. Ravindra Rao’s “Study of Lines” brings us back to reality to remind us that our heroes are not always what they seem. I made a hero out of heartbreak like a painter fixated on the eye of a storm that passed years ago. Ache is the language of my spine, hunched over your scant, naked poetry, in which every line presages the current snow. How could I not know? And finally Eric Fretz who champions (and here I agree) vulnerability over brute strength: I want a hero who doesn’t catch cold And die of pneumonia in Greece. Who’ll grow Old, yet in verse and politics be bold And still “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” So as we’ve many times now all been told Poetry changes nothing, yes, it’s so, But neither does joining the armed struggle; I want my hero here to lie and snuggle. As for next week, David Lehman turns our attention to the poet Anna Kamienska, who offers us two great first lines: “Sleep is what I’ll miss most when I die.” and “I walk around disguised as an overweight old lady.” For next week, use one of these lines as a springboard, an epigram, or first line. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post with even more heroes and more details on the new prompt. And don't forget to tune in every Tuesday for more of Next Line, Please! Continue reading
Posted May 27, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This evening David Lehman will be reading from Next Line, Please: Prompts to Inspire Poets and Writers at: Book Culture 82nd Street and Columbus Avenue New York City 7pm Join us for a night of literary magic, beautiful books, and a reading of the prompts that started it all. For next week, start your poem with the first clause of Lord Byron's Don Juan: "I want a hero" and see what comes next! Extra points to those who write in Byron's legendary form: an ottava rima stanza—eight lines long, rhyming a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c. You could also write a brief poem about Lord Byron beginning with his line, “I want a hero.” Twelve lines or less, and as a model consider W. H. Auden’s poem that begins, “A shilling life will give you all the facts.” Have fun with it! The next few days of rain might be the perfect time to pass in the library rereading Byron or reading up on his extraordinary life. As always, visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post and to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted May 15, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week on Next Line, Please, David Lehman gave us an enticing first line based on a two-clause summary of Tolstoy's classic, War and Peace. NLP contributors went many ways with the prompt, some playing off of the shortened plot summaries, and others, the fruit of false parallelism. Angela Ball’s “Synapses,” (the word for “a junction between two nerve cells, consisting of a minute gap across which impulses pass by diffusion of a neurotransmitter,” as Mr. Lehman reminds us) is rife with clever stuff. The breaking news about Karl Marx comes at no better time, as his birthday last week went uncelebrated but not unnoticed: Pierre loves Natasha and Napoleon invades Russia. Polar ice cap diminishes and socialite seeks follicular transplant. Novice renounces world and exerciser learns Zumba. Karl Marx writes love poetry and lava engulfs subdivision. Prankster covers toilet bowl with plastic wrap and Eta Aquariids meteor shower arrives. Shady company sells fake ants and Battle of Chaeronea is first recorded use of “penetration of the center.” Feigned retreat devolves to real one in Battle of Maling and rhinoceros named to the City Council in São Paulo, Brazil. Office stapler jams and Russian noun “Razbliuto” describes “the feeling a man has for someone he once loved.” Hannibal employs double envelope in Cannae and Japanese noun “Yugen” refers to “a feeling about the universe too deep and mysterious for words.” In “The Power of Words,” Patricia Smith joins those of us who regret that some people just don't "get" the beauty of great books. Pierre loves Natasha and Napoleon invades Russia. How much simpler it would have been to explain to an unwilling student— one complaining of unfamiliar names impossible to associate with something familiar or bemoaning detailed descriptions of scenes surrounding impending battles— that Tolstoy had written an epic love story albeit a hefty one. And nothing can beat this final stanza of Millicent Caliban’s “War Heroes”: Lovers’ problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, yet when the hurlyburly’s done, in our stories, it is the lovers we remember and not who won. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post, and keep your eyes peeled for a new prompt! Continue reading
Posted May 8, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week's Next Line, Please takes you for a spin around the world. The places are real and the experiences imagined, and yet there's something about this prompt that makes me feel like a tired, excited traveller on a midnight train heading to... “Montevideo” by Angela Ball Montevideo mourns in spangles tonight. In the middle of somewhere, wives fly aprons from housetops, sit down equally with husbands wives sons daughters, beautifully and remorselessly thinking in the moist old city. Montevideo in the middle of somewhere renounces Brutalism in buildings and roughness of action, endorses la Dama de la Noche and the shyest parrots. Lost to stables, roans and chestnuts circle extravagance. In the middle of somewhere, Montevideo mourns in spangles tonight. ...and the wind is whipping and the tourists are buzzing, and as we pull into the following stop on the midnight express train: Ricky Ray’s “Hawaii”: The pool blue of Hawaii haunts me like the eye of a dog whose other eye was brown like the skin of my father all day swinging a machete in the sun, I want the ungodly way the women would watch him work through his troubles to feed me, fat boy who ate too much because a dog was his mother and both of them ate the sun. And so many more! Including un-Finn-ished poems and many more stories from places visited in the imagination. For next week … how about a poem of twelve to 14 lines, beginning with a one-sentence summary of War and Peace: “Pierre loves Natasha and Napoleon invades Russia.” As David Lehman smartly remarks, "The two clauses are perfectly balanced, each one a subject, verb, and object, and the incongruity between the two clauses is very funny." Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post from around the world, and enter your candidate for next week! Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week's post was a call for submissions with the following prompt: Pack your bags and set up your travel itinerary, because we are writing travel poems! But not in the way you'd have guessed. This week, pick a place that you have never been to and write a poem envisioning your time there. What are your favorite parts of it? What are some things you might do and see? Will you meet anyone there? Is it as beautiful as you expected? Take a look at some similarly prompted works by Elizabeth Bishop (“In Prison”), James Merrill (“Peru: The Landscape Game”), and John Ashbery (“The Instruction Manual”). These poems and others show that you don't need to go someplace to say something new or unique about it. Write about the place and what you like most about it in two stanzas of five to seven lines each. The last line of both stanzas should be identical, or nearly so. Let the name of the place serve as your title, e.g. “Belgrade” or “Cruising the Caribbean.” Or just play Bobby Darin’s recording of “Sunday in New York” and write whatever comes to mind. Visit the American Scholar's page to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Apr 24, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
On Monday evening, April 23rd, David Lehman and Linda Gregerson will be reading poems at KGB Bar! KGB Bar 85 East 4th Street New York, New York 7:30 pm, but get there early to make sure you get a seat! Linda Gregerson, who teaches at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, is a poet as well as a scholar of Elizabethan and seventeenth-century poetry. She has won many awards. Her latest book of poems is "Prodigal: New and Selected Poems, 1976-2014" (Houghton Mifflin). David Lehman, who teaches at The New School in New York City, is a poet, editor, and literary critic, just to name a few of his accomplishments. His latest book of poetry is Poems in the Manner of (Simon and Schuster) and his latest book on writing is Next Line, Please: Prompts to Inspire Poets and Writers (Cornell University Press). Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
The New School After Hours on April 20th, 2018 Come one, come all, to the hippest literary scene in the East Village! Hosted by Virginia Valenzuela and Co-host Sam Roos Every third Friday of the month, New Schoolers new and old come to the Red Room to strut their stuff. Poets, novelists, essayists, musicians, and YA galore! The Red Room at KGB Bar (3rd floor) 85 E 4th Street, New York, New York Doors open at 6:30pm Event to begin around 8pm We can't wait to see you there! Continue reading
Posted Apr 18, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week on Next Line, Please, David Lehman proposed a list poem that included three out of the following four words: “listless,” “invent,” “Tory,” and “catalogue.” The contributors to the column went above and beyond, creating clever spins on the list words, as well as the lists. Millicent Caliban’s “After My Wife Left Me” imagines possible recipes for a newly widowed individual who shall heal through good food: I find myself shopping listless. I am a creature of impulse, inventing imaginary meals for gustaTory delight: plump anchovies in aspic, fresh chanterelles with shallots and cream, spicy sautéed quinoa with kale, orzo fennel orange salad, pureed chestnuts with chocolate. My catalogue of recipes mixes memory with desire. How does a poet learn to cook? In Elizabeth Solsburg’s poem we receive the great promise of a “catalogue of peace”: Is music invented that actually soothes the savage breast? Perhaps something like Liszt, less like the daily cacophony from the composer of this mess we are trying to mute. Let’s choose notes from a catalogue of peace, like we chose seeds to plant in the garden where we hope to sit in summer— smelling these embryonic flowers, listening to the night symphony of crickets Ravindra Rao’s “We are Are Always Preparing for the End” is both charming and musical: Listless, I invent a list. Seven dying doves for Christmas, the good Klaus will deliver. Every dove is a dying dove. Every love, too, though we don’t mention that. Some say love is nothing more than a catalogue of fading memories, that lovers are always stuck in September. I am not claiming to agree, but please don’t wake me up when the soundtrack ends. I am busy dreaming a list of possible futures. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post! Continue reading
Posted Apr 17, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week's poems were prompted by a list of given lines which were offered up by our master of ceremonies, David Lehman: — A good liar needs a first-rate memory. — This prophecy Merlin shall make; for I live before his time. — Neither fugues nor feathers enchant the fool. — No one will read what I write here; therefore, — The desire to make love in a pagoda Elizabeth Solsburg combines two of the prompt lines in these beautiful, musical, and symmetrical stanzas: This prophecy Merlin shall make, for I live beyond his time— that he will find a kestrel feather floating on the lake and mistake it for the power of flight, as I will believe his passion is true love and not merely its illusion. He will be seduced by dreams of air slipping over wings, as I will be enthralled by promises and song. But at the last, we shall both sink into the dark pool, unmagicked and unloved, because feathers and fugues can enchant the fool. Charise Hoge’s “Rampant Writing” fragments Kafka’s line in a funny and refreshing way: no one will read … for poets are cropping up like a luxury of weeds: sagebrush, mugwort, nettle; not the sort of plant anyone chooses for plots aiming to be garden beds, but the kind that catches by surprise, causes sneezing that creates a seismic shift along cranial synarthroses, refocusing the eyes, and somewhere someone will say “bless you” Next week's prompt is to write a list poem of 12 lines or less including at least three of the following words "listless," invent," "Tory," and "catalogue." Visit the American Scholar's page to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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It is a real pleasure to see the buzz form around the publication of Next Line, Please: Prompts to Inspire Poets and Writers. So much talent and so many good poems are to be found there, along with prompts as far as the eye can read! Today we look at a poem written by one of the contributors, a sort of ode to the series as a whole. From Paul Michelsen, who won NLP’s MVP award two years ago, comes this cento, made up of lines from other contributors, in our honor. Its title, “Next Line.” Midnight champagne, And we are drinking Gallo Burgundy The sickle begins to dream, Drunk on the sacrament— Roll the words to start a drumbeat in your brain. We scrabble for an icy antidote, A busy spray of flaw and folly That tastes like candy, Strewn across a barren no-man’s-land, Marriage on the rocks Rehearsing its surrender As things sour beyond hope. You make promises. Now it’s too late. Flamingo-pink tinctures mixed from catastrophe— Made to look like something we can stand in. What coda might make the whole emerge? For this week’s prompt, we look to hard-to-solve riddles, metaphysical jests, and memorable sentences lifted out of context. Some possible opening lines include: — A good liar needs a first-rate memory. — This prophecy Merlin shall make; for I live before his time. — Neither fugues nor feathers enchant the fool. — “No one will read what I write here; therefore,” — The desire to make love in a pagoda See what at you can do with one or more of these lines in a poem 12 lines long (or shorter). Visit the American Scholar's page to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week, the illustrious leader of the poetry free-for-all tasked the writers of Next Line, Please with a prompt inspired by the challenging game of chess. He proposed that they write poems inspired by the name of a chess opening, such as “Sicilian Defense,” “Queen’s Gambit Declined,” “Hedgehog System,” “Grand Prix Attack,” “Napoleon Opening,” “Vienna Game,” or something of the like. The entries seemed to separate into two categories: the hedgehogs and the foxes. Among the hedgehogs is Mack Eulet’s “J’Adoube” which means means “I adjust,” with a specific chess application: it is what is said by a player who wants to adjust the placing of a chessman without making a move with it. Here in the hedgehog system, it’s midnight now in every time zone. Our strategy: more us, less space—a convex, touchy-feely aggression like the big bang. Alternating currents with no switch, the board’s white-black voltage zaps our zugzwang with rigor mortis. Once a pawn a time—it never matters. The queen seems free until a hand swoops to pluck her. Among the foxes is Don Baumgart's “Fegatello” which takes its title from the name of a chess defense also known as “the fried-liver attack,” a subset of the “two knights’ defense.” All the priceless moments: talking fianchetto, zugzwang, speculating rules of senet even pleased to chat about parcheesi and all our greatest aspirations; All our treasured things: Queen Cleo’s dried-berry necklace, all this drink, these inimitable livers, Dido’s trusty dildo, the GPS that helped you find the clit; And then it was time to eat your last meal: Fried liver, asparagus, raspberry tea; But you never made the final swing Your c.o.d.: Asphyxiation caused by venom from the bite you gave yourself. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post, with many more excellent poems and crafty chess moves! And please raise a glass on Saturday, March 31st, at midnight any time zone. Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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On this week's installment of Next Line, Please, contributors were tasked with writing poems with lines quoted from participants' submissions in the previous week: “He’d rather be listening to Beethoven”—Patricia Wallace “will one day pack her suitcase”—Cheryl Whitehead “And once, I took a turn at the bedside of a dying man”—Donald LaBranche “and all the Patron Saints of Paranoia”—George Kaplan “an illusion, / like loving /without losing”—Courtney Thrash “I have been to the abyss”—David Lehman The results are quite varied and ever satisfying. Shout to to Millicent Caliban’s “Forgive Me” which gives a taste of all 6 lines: I have been to the abbess. She told me to pray to the patron saint of paranoia because I fear my faith is an illusion, like loving without losing. How can I be sure of my vocation? We sing hymns, but I would rather listen to Beethoven: more passion, less devotion, reluctant to obey, unable to desire renunciation. Will I one day pack my suitcase and leave? Tonight I will take my turn by the bed of a dying man and pray for his soul, for his release from guilt and sin and mine. What comes after? Is it bliss or only the abyss? Another gold star to all the newcomers to “Next Line, Please,” specifically Koahakumele's “Baggage”: Once, at twenty, I took a turn at the bedside of a dying man. Though he slept fitfully, and snorted and wheezed his own melody, I knew he’d rather be listening to Beethoven. On the other hand, I, faced with his reality and with silent time lingering, realized I had now been to the abyss. I prayed to all the Patron Saints of Paranoia, recognizing my own small suitcase would be one day packed for my own last journey. Believing I could avoid the blank midnight corridors and antiseptic smells was only an illusion. Like loving without losing. Next week’s prompt is inspired by the charming lexicon of chess, particularly the names of chess openings, including: “Queen’s Gambit Declined” “Sicilian Defense” “Hedgehog System” “Grand Prix Attack” “Napoleon Opening” “Vienna Game” Choose one and do what you can. Your poem can be or not be about chess. Fourteen lines or less. Visit the American Scholar's page to read all the other poems with borrowed lines and to enter your candidate for next week! Continue reading
Posted Mar 21, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week's prompt began with an aphorism from Voltaire: “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” Followed by Mr. Lehman's modification: “Doubt isn’t any fun, but certainty is madness.” And finally, to use this phrase as either a title or a topic: “the minister of loneliness.” This prompt proved fruitful, for there were numerous entries of high quality. So many that Mr. Lehman was forced to award three first place gold medals, the following being the first (and my personal favorite). Patricia Wallace’s “Toothache” which incorporates all the elements of the prompt: No doubt about it. I have a toothache even if I can’t locate the source of the pain (that iffy tooth the dentist’s been eyeing?). It isn’t any fun, this toothache. It’s making me crazy, thinking about how certain is the possibility of a root canal or worse? Of course, it’s trivial, my toothache, beside the impenetrable mysteries: life, death, etc., where there’s no avoiding the knotty family relations between certainty and doubt. According to the Minister of Loneliness, my brave if cryptic guide in these matters, “doubting itself presupposes certainty.” Some doubts, it follows, are properly ignored. Why waste my time doubting the chessboard, or my two hands or the stars in the wintry night sky? It’s too exhausting. In the remotest cold, the Minister of Loneliness tries to unravel these knots. Some call him mad. Even he thinks his work could be merely “a synopsis of trivialities.” He’d rather be listening to Beethoven, who howled and screamed as he composed, making from the chaos of sound a symphony, not of separate notes but their connections, like stars in a constellation. Another notable entry was Courtney Thrash in “Professor of Doubt” which explores the relationship between faith and doubt: faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive in truth, one cannot exist without the other: doubt without faith is an impossibility, like heartache without loving; faith without doubt would be certainty, were not certainty an illusion, like loving without losing And now for the next prompt! Below are six lines quoted in the column: “He’d rather be listening to Beethoven”—Patricia Wallace “will one day pack her suitcase”—Cheryl Whithead “And once, I took a turn at the bedside of a dying man”—Donald LaBranche “and all the Patron Saints of Paranoia”—George Kaplan “an illusion, / like loving /without losing”—Courtney Thrash “I have been to the abyss”—David Lehman Pick one of these phrases and use it—first line, last line, epigraph, a pivot, etc.—in a poem dedicated to the poet whose line you lifted. A possible subject: the ides of March. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post and to enter your candidate for next week! Continue reading
Posted Mar 13, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week's prompt was to riff off of misheard lines and double meanings, or to write a poem which speaks to the "honor role." On the state of honor in our world, Michael C. Rush's “Arete” argues a good point: Neither predators nor prey have honor. Nor need it to restrain their worst impulses. What are we, that need a code to guide us? A poem with a lot of wordplay and a lot of spunk, Christine Rhein's "Honor Role" hits the scene: Give me an H! Give me an O so close, that rolled-out roll rolling away, and the honor left misplaced, misfired, as in haywired, the role—spot lit, hammed up, grown rolly poly—I mean holy cannoli—no proofreading in my pudding, yet no honor roll of shame, no lame, Spellcheck blame braking badly into song, braking all my fingers, braking me off at the pleas— next line yes, please—give me a break. Next week's prompt is to write a poem with an epigraph, either, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd" (Voltaire), or some variation thereof, such as “Doubt isn’t any fun, but certainty is madness.” An optional addition is to include one of the following phrases: “professor of doubt,” “connoisseur of chaos,” or “minister of loneliness.” Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full posts, full of clever poems and excellent literary references, and to enter your candidate for next week! Continue reading
Posted Mar 6, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week's prompt centers on a mix between the homophone and the Freudian slip: create a poem titled "Honor Role" incorporating less of rhyme and more of mix-ups. Words with double meanings, such as "whole in one" or "roll model," as well as altering a word in a well known phrase by one letter, "track meat," "over hall," or "the golden role," can both prove fruitful. Nearly four years ago, David Lehman and The American Scholar began Next Line, Please with the mission to diversify the poetry education available on the web, and to get more poets, many emerging and unpublished, into the ring. Not only have both of these goals been realized, but they created a virtual community that offers both support and constructive criticism. Everyone who participates or reads benefits, and in that spirit comes forth a new publication on creative writing. The first copies of Next Line, Please: Prompts to Inspire Poets and Writers are out and about, and trust me, you'll want to get your hands on this book as soon as you can. The design is utterly beautiful, and the content is like no book on creative writing that you've read before. Great for individuals looking for prompts and for writing groups looking for guidance. Visit the American Scholar's page to enter your candidate! And to read more on the new book! Continue reading
Posted Feb 27, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week's prompt, most broadly, was to translate a poem from a language which the author does not know. Next Line, Please contributors were given Armando Frietas Filho’s “Cartão-postal sem fôlego” (“Breathless Postcard”) to translate into English from the Portuguese. In the spirit of community--which launched the first ever prompt of Next Line, Please, a communally crafted sonnet, which can be found here--David Lehman chose single lines from different author's translations, rendering something altogether new, fresh, and downright good. Here is the "translated" poem: Nature nurtures nothing, [David Lehman] neither one’s name nor one’s trousers. [Emily Winakur] A pair of dice is paradise [Millicent Caliban] that falls like false promises, [Erik Chaney] words ad infinitum [Patricia Smith] or the verbiage of infinity. [Angela Ball] Sadness [Justin Knapp] is born … overarching like parasols. [Charise Hoge] For there the rivers are paradises, [Courtney Thrash] and all the verbs and infinitives [Ralph L. Rosa] pass as rapidly as the water flows in the river. [Elizabeth Solzurg] I am reason’s nudist, [Emily Winakur] like mountain peaks overlooking [Charise Hoge] tits of rock, ah! sacred, scared, and scarred. [Erik Chaney] Where is our cave? [Emily Winakur] And on which page? [Courtney Thrash] And in whose book? [Angela Ball] Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post! Continue reading
Posted Feb 21, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This Monday, February 12th, David Lehman and Angela Ball will be giving a poetry reading at Le Poisson Rouge of Bleecker Street. Join in for drinks, laughs, and a grand old time! Event starts at 7:30, doors open at 6:30, Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, & it's free! Visit the Le Poisson Rouge's page for more info, other events, and more! Continue reading
Posted Feb 10, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week on Next Line, Please, writers were asked to write a poem in the form of a string of haikus. As usual, many excellent candidates rolled in, and here are but a few! Eric Fetzer’s “Erased de Kooning, 1953” reads like a "spontaneous essay—in this case on a pivotal moment in the history of modern art." I enjoy how lines one and three rhyme and how the rhythmic structure of the haiku helps the poem along. Rauschenberg erased A tough de Kooning drawing Leaving a smudged trace. Was it a lecture, Destruction as creation, A dada gesture? But the gesture left Subtle marks on white paper So we’re not bereft Of media, form As expression of movement: Not out of the norm, Just new medium. But many of these would be Awful tedium. Michael C. Rush’s “Blow, Wind” "seems to advocate discarding poetry while exalting the deep source of all poems." It reminds me a bit of Marianne Moore's "Poetry" which begins, "I, too, dislike it." No more poetry. All rhymes are accidental, lack utility. Only the wind now will I listen to. It won’t insist why or how things happen, or can’t. Or tell me nothing matters, or chide, cut, or grant, grudgingly, a sense, a temporary feeling, worth all this expense. Blow, wind, blow. Give me sensation without meaning— the truth, probably. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post and to enter your own candidate for this week's prompt! Spoiler Alert: it's Valentine's Day themed. --Virginia Valenzuela Continue reading
Posted Feb 6, 2018 at The Best American Poetry