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Virginia Valenzuela
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This week on Next Line, Please, quizmaster Lehman provides a new prompt for NLP regulars to try out. For this prompt, let's start with on of these two titles: “Occupational Hazards” and “Barroom Brawl.” The former works because "it is part of our discourse, a phrase that can suit many purposes or occasions;" and the latter because "it, too, is a familiar phrase and may conjure up a very concrete scene." Now on to the rules... Write a poem 10 to 15 lines long. A second constraint might prove useful. For example, you may write a 10-line poem divided into two five-line stanzas, both of which have identical last lines. Or—and what a stunt it is—a 12-line poem in which the numbers from one to nine appear in English or homophonic form. You are encouraged to take liberties. The word for “five” in French sounds like “sank”; “four” is “fear” in German; “nine” is “nein” in that language; the word “one” is included in “wonderful.” It’s a wonderful paradox that constraints act as liberators of the imagination. Visit the American Scholar's page for the full post and to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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“We can’t behave like people in novels, though, can we?” Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence. “The Gauge of Dissonance,” by Aaron Fagan uses the line as an epigraph. The title gets us started on a high note, and "rises to eloquence," provokes thought: We can, but there is no one there to explain us to ourselves Or others—the tidy or perfectly untidy inner lives of strangers Designed for us to love or not love but love then unlove And then love again by story’s end. And no one is so perfectly Self-aware as those imagined in all those parallel linear lines Of prose like striped prison uniforms now set free in verse No matter how unskillful their behavior might’ve been those Years ago, beneath a balcony in Paris, and the decision to leave. The third and fourth lines struck me as very Virginia Woolf-esque. Well done. Millicent Caliban's poem, “Death Sentence” offers us another way in to Wharton's sentiment: We can’t behave like people in novels. We haven’t got the time, the wit, the grace. We are bored, overworked, exhausted, or plunged so deep in our personal swamps, we cannot rise to the necessary insight, irony, or self-reflection. We slither around in the opaque mud: reptilian, repulsive, repugnant, lacking an author to prompt our passions, detonate desire. We can see no plot, no climax, no redeeming denouement. Alas! Condemned to remain post-modern. And finally, Patricia Wallace’s “The Window,” a sonnet, with a terrific opening, and a lovely turn: Coming not out of nowhere, like the cold October wind down from the mountains, the ten-year window arrives, revising the scope of binoculars from far to near, and we’re staring it right in the faces of our suddenly ghostly children. We’re searching for a story that leads to a different ending, magical realism or a fable where polar bears regenerate and glaciers like ice cubes refreeze, or at least the old inhabitant trees hang on, their birdless limbs whispering to one another. Now a blip on the radar, we’re trying to invent new characters, better than we are. But we can’t behave like people in novels, can we? Jumping backward in time, heeding the warning signs, giving the predictable conclusion the slip? We also applaud Patricia Smith (whose poem begins with the Wharton epigraph, and then “I certainly hope not—” ), Louis Altman (whose phrase “a Dashiell Hammett evening” could launch a dozen poems), Donald LaBranche, Keith Barrett, and Elizabeth Solzburg for work of exceptional merit. More poems on the American Scholar's page, along with the full post! And a new prompt next week~ Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Dear Poetess Vinny, I’m considering graduate school to earn an MFA in Creative Writing. I’m in my late forties, a mother, and my main concern is how to present myself in a university setting. Should I wear clothes I would wear to work? How far can I dress down? Any advice would be much appreciated! Yours, Poetess Dear Poetess, Taking on a Masters in Fine Arts is a wonderful challenge filled with creative torrents, fast-paced learning, and hopefully, major literary inspiration. It’s also a place to meet talented, like-minded people who will boost your ambition and support your pursuit of writing, which is something we can’t always take for granted. Many graduate programs are populated by recent college grads, but MFA Creative Writing programs tend to be a little bit different. MFA students are quite diverse in age, race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, and previous careers, especially in programs in places like New York. So let’s talk fashion. A lot of people in the Masters in Fine Arts programs in New York have day jobs, which means there will always be at least one person in your class wearing a button-down and slacks and one in a blouse and dress shoes. There are also a lot of unemployed poets, daytime baristas, nighttime bartenders, and everything under the sun; meaning, you’re just as likely to find people in skinny jeans, t-shirts, and converse shoes. All this to say, no one is going to judge you based on what you wear to class. I interviewed two women in the Creative Writing Program at The New School to find out a few things, such as what they did before grad school, why they came to the program, and which shoes they wear when putting their best foot forward. Profile 1: Where professional meets glamorous Heather Newman is 57, a suburban wife, mother of two kids aged 20 and 22, and the owner of a playful, fluffy Coton de Tulear named Sir Lancelot, the royal dog of Madagascar. Heather has worked as a freelance writer and copyeditor for Family Circle magazine, an associate producer for TV and radio at Grey Advertising, and an on-air TV news reporter at CBS. She is a second-year student in the poetry concentration. Poetess Vinny: What made you want to return to school after having a successful career in all of these exciting fields? Heather Newman: While I was home raising kids, I started to write creatively, taking classes and workshops whenever possible. Most people my age opt for low-residency MFA programs. I wanted the full-time interaction with a vibrant literary scene. Jane Fonda says she has lived a life in five acts. For me, the MFA is my chapter three. PV: Did you have any reservations about joining a program that, statistically speaking, has a high population of people under 30? HN: No. I love young people. My challenge is technology. But I’m getting better. I use google docs, Instagram, thinking about Twitter… and I love The New... Continue reading
Posted Nov 3, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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What prompts a poem into existence? Dr. Lehman suspects that many poems are byproducts of reading, coming across an arresting line, an interesting image, a noteworthy character, and we think of it as a point of departure. In The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton writes: “We can’t behave like people in novels, though, can we?” For this week's prompt, write a symmetrical, two stanza poem under 14 lines, allowing for a duet, if not a dialogue. Or perhaps an unrhymed sonnet? It’s up to you whether to use Wharton’s line as an epigraph or as a line in your poem—possibly the terminal line of one or both stanzas. Visit the American Scholar's page to enter your candidate! Deadline: Saturday, November 3, midnight wherever you are. Continue reading
Posted Oct 31, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week on Next Line, Please contributors laid out false confessions on a surprisingly eclectic mix of topics. Charise Hoge’s “Shooting for the Moon” wins the "sonority prize" for the run of rhymes that energizes it: They handed me a gun —dusk, as it happened, moon misbegotten on my glass-top table. Sullen, I aimed—not pointing at anyone, not blaming the run of Furies, not looking to shun repercussions of a percussive gun. Shards surround, leaves abun- dant fever the ground. It’s autumn. I’m mad for a glow minus reflection. Some NLP regulars suggested that the writer cut the first line. David voted to retain it, and Keith Barrett and Emily Winakur, suggested that the opening two lines be flipped. What do you think? Donald LaBranche's “But Now,” contains a parochial school recollection that takes quite a turn: St. Teresa’s parish, late 1950’s. The church is impenetrable, aloof, a single candle for light. It is the week of our First Communion. The Sisters have marched us in, shoulder-to-shoulder, index fingers at our lips, to rehearse the good confession before Saturday. They are legion. “Here is the door to the confessional. Here is the kneeler. The screen.” Here is the story we must hear: “She was in a class before you and sat where you are sitting now.” (They are a well-practiced Greek chorus.) “She contrived made-up sins, was unrepentant, laughed at the sacrament, hoped to fool the priest. The Devil was not fooled. When she took the host during Mass, the Devil had her by the throat and choked the lie out of her. Her parents wept, and she was buried in unhallowed ground, lost forever.” We had not known that we were naked, nor that we should have been afraid. Inspired by the great man of confessions himself, Patricia Wallace's “Augustine Confesses” has an immutable claim over our attention: Theft thrilled me. Not the despised pears but ripeness and excess. I loved my own undoing, my errors, my shame. My liberty was that of a runaway, my sexual habits at a skillet’s center, outrageous desires hissing around me. Unreasonably attached to the pleasure of mortal bodies, I fused with one I never name. So deeply engrafted. When she was torn from me, my maimed heart limped along a trail of blood. Then came longing for immutable light, my soul laddering higher and higher, through all the degrees of matter, through the heavenly spheres: the eternity beyond time itself. Breathless, that moment of brushing lightly as skin against it Patricia, in the spirit of the prompt, also confesses to stealing most of the language for this from Augustine’s Confessions, for a result which is “not necessarily true to Augustine’s argument,” a remark that may spur you to return to the source, or wonder at the remarkable action of taking things out of context. To read more "confessional" poems, and to check out Dr. Lehman's own own effort, “Lazy Day,” which capitalizes on the homophonic les idées (“the ideas”) in French, visit... Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week on Next Line, Please, we take up the false confession. Think murder mysteries, The Wire, Law and Order. How many times has someone taken the blame to cover up for someone else? What are their motives? Out of love? Out of fear? As Dr. Lehman points out, "The false confession points to a logical problem inherent in language. There is nothing to assure us that any statement, even a confession of wrongdoing, is truthful, sincere, and accurate." How can we manipulate this problem to our benefit, in poetry? The readers of Next Line, Please await your reply. Write 15 lines or less (or a prose paragraph) in which you take responsibility (or credit) for having done something despicable, nasty, improper, unexpected, or unusual. Visit the American Scholar's page to enter your candidate! Deadline is Saturday, October 20, midnight any time zone. Continue reading
Posted Oct 17, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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When Lionel Trilling was 23 years old, he wrote to a friend, “There are two ways, I have discovered, of wearing despair. One is over all your clothes, a great vestment hanging well over your shoes and liable to trip you; the other is to tie it about your middle like a Cordelier’s rope—only under your pants—to make you keep your belly in.” Now, thinking back to our prompt in which NLP contributors were asked to write something from the point of view of a piece of clothing, how might this idea of wearing emotions turn into poetry. One of the routes to take this prompt came about from a René Magritte painting in last week's post, and Patricia Wallace took it all the way with this prize-winning entry: “We must think about objects at the very moment when all their meaning is abandoning them” (Magritte) Closeted, floating on a wire wingspan all unbuttoned, I no longer conceal anything, not even the shadowed silk of my lining. The very moment memory evaporates like the scent of lavender warding off moths, I become an angel released from the earthly weight of meaning, my fluttering empty sleeves rising and falling, their gesture-less syllables unintelligible, my folds collapsing the space where a mantled heart once hid. The old, stale secrets— ticket stubs, wrappers, crumpled notes now illegible— spill from my pockets, light as the drift of leaves Christine Rhein shares top honors with “Sequin Dress,” I’m so blue, even in the dark, stuck in the back of your closet, your mind. For years you’ve kept me hanging, layers of dust graying my shimmer and the sparkling way we once danced in that dressing room, how you smiled driving me home, how you worried I could wrinkle. What are you doing out there, wearing a T-shirt, jeans? Are you waiting to find the perfect stilettos before you think of slipping me on? Or is it some stage you await, spotlights on me, you—in your next life—when you’ll sing Night and Day. A third award went to Angela Ball's “Talking Couture Pantoum” for taking up on the challenge of informing the NLP public about the “New Look” in women’s fashion in the late 1940s, another suggestion of where to take the prompt. I’m Rita Hayworth’s black evening gown in Gilda My straplessness anticipates Christian Dior—his New Look, 1947, My opera gloves pay homage to Gypsy Rose Lee. My swirl of fabric at the hip is magic. My straplessness anticipates Christian Dior. Rita wore me to the hilt, singing, swiveling her shoulders. My swirl of fabric at the hip is magic. I’m Rita Hayworth’s evening gown in Gilda. And finally, Eric Fretz wins the parody award for this clever rewriting of William Carlos Williams’s signature poem: so much depends upon me, red wove tie silk with matte weft, astride the white shirt Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post! With more arresting lines and wonderful "pieces." And tune in next Tuesday for a... Continue reading
Posted Oct 10, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week on Next Line, Please, quizmaster David Lehman doles out yet another prompt worthy of our full attention: Do the clothes we wear have things in common with masks? Do they in some way disguise us, or do they project who we are? The phrase “a wardrobe of excuses,” from Auden’s great elegy for Sigmund Freud, implies yet another reading. Write a poem from the point of view of a garment in your closet. Dress, suit, jacket, shoes, sartorial, or stylin'. One of the pleasures of poetry is to animate an inanimate object and give it a voice. If the “apparel oft proclaims the man,” what do your clothes say about the person who inhabits them? Can the history of a person be inferred from the history of a garment? René Magritte has a lovely painting titled Les valeurs personnelles, in which you will find an oversized comb, shaving brush, match, cake of soap, and wine glass. It illustrates one possible direction to take this prompt. Awards will go to (1) the best poem under 16 lines, (2) the best poem in three three-line stanzas, and (3) the best brief poem. NLP regulars are well aware of your captain’s delight in brevity. Deadline: Saturday, October 6, 2018, midnight any time zone. Visit the American Scholar's page to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Oct 3, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Dear Poetess Vinny, I'm about to publish my first volume of poetry with a small press and am going to be traveling to give readings. I'm in my early 30s and most of the time I waitress so I don't have much of a wardrobe. What can I wear that travels well, won't break the bank, and makes me look like a serious (but not t00 serious!) poet. What should I do about makeup? Yours, Poetess Dear Poetess, Congratulations on your first book of poetry! It must be very exciting to be engaging with new readers and poetry fans, and along with our wishes for good luck, here are some tips to help you look and feel confident while sharing your poetry. 1. A pair of dark jeans is a MUST, not just for poets, but for life. Think about your upcoming readings. They will probably be in either a dimly lit whole-in-the-wall poetry club or bar, a white-light college or university, or in the yellow-hued musk of a bookstore. Darker colors, such as black, navy, or darker shades of gray, always turn up well in photos, no matter the lighting, and they have a slimming effect, which everyone loves. Dark jeans also fold and travel well, so you won’t have to worry about wrinkles or dry cleaning on the day of your reading. PLUS, you can wear these to work or for a night out on the town. 2. Blouses and button-downs. Prints are IN. So you have your jeans on, and you’re wondering, does this look too casual? Like simple dinners that come to life with the right wine, it all depends on the pairing. Some poetry readings are more formal than others, so you want to find pieces that work for both settings and everything in between. There have been many takes on the classic blouse and button down, many made in cotton blends that are great to travel with, easy to clean, and appropriate to dress up or dress down. Try a fun pattern with dark jeans or dress pants for a more casual look. Try a sports jacket with a basic v-neck for a chic, professional look. 3. How to do your makeup. I think that the basis for looking good is with taking care of your skin with a daily facial cleanser and a moisturizer with SPF (this goes for men too!). If your skin is clean and protected, then you don’t have to do much with your makeup. I DO suggest using eyeliner around your top lid (and bottom, if that’s your style) and some mascara so that your eyes are clearly defined no matter the harsh lighting. Brown works well for daytime and dark brown or black for nighttime. An eye-shadow palette that has a few colors that are made for your skin tone (light to dark brown) along with champagne-like color (for highlighting the corners of your eyes and under the eyebrow), browns and grays (for the outer lid), and, if... Continue reading
Posted Oct 1, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Poems for this week were inspired by either our own names or the name of someone we admire, coming out in acrostic form. There were a great many poems, furthering David's tried and true method, that prompts are the soil that bear the sweetest of fruits. Pamela Joyce S’s “Strung Out on Poems” won the award for wit—and she will receive a copy of The Best American Poetry 2018 for her effort. Poetry, mea culpa maxima, Aligns clay persona with anima. Mainlining morphemes and vaping verbs, I Escape the mundane phrase. Vox humana Lures a lucid line, words raining like manna Assembling in time. Then … nothing. Nada. A brevity prize—and a copy of The Best American Poetry 2018—goes to Beth Dufford for “Short for Elizabeth”: Beets agree with her; Elephants enchant. Time is flexible; Hope is extant. Angela Ball’s “Acrostic Villanelle for Elizabeth Bishop” may be the most ambitious of the entries, an acrostic and a villanelle, in with true Bishop-like decision: Elizabeth, your poems transcend loss—you would hate “transcend.” Let me try again. They naturalize loss—join it to nature. In Hebrew, your name means “oath of God”—curse or promise, endless. Zoom of the VW you half-learned to drive, freedom, a patchy memory— At last we’re getting somewhere—your poems dislike the staid, the mature. But they do transcend loss, though you would hate “transcend.” Evenings I spot your Man-Moth on the A train. Vaguely Trembling, wings mashed by glum commuters, he endures. Help me understand Elizabeth as “oath of God”—curse and promise, no end. “Bishop” means “overseer”—the mucho mundo of your famous eye Imagined life fresh-minted—yet quaint as a rotogravure. Still, Elizabeth, your poems transcend loss—you would hate “transcend.” Here I set down your two names, the first, “God’s promise” or “God’s curse.” Old or almost old, I need the sea as you caught it, art and memory Perfecting a beach where sandpipers rush on twigs of legs, lagging, insecure. And you, EB, are no more than art—dubious monument to daylight, Assortment and assembly—like Cézanne’s mountain—provisional and pure. Your name means curse or promise, permanently. Your poems transcend loss, though you would hate “transcend.” The award for originality goes to Grant Dowling, who includes memorable facts, events, and names, in not this, but other poems, taking advantage of all the uses of research and scholarship that a poet has at his or her fingertips: G ypsies and ewjies: Grunfeld’s lithiogramic agachés reconstinpated again. R uffling beans, another, unending. Ten times salted across—that perjurer. A ctus. Triumphiant tribalisms, scattered triavial trivium. “No Theater in Twenty” pays. N eo-Vichian mirandous necronometer: Patsy’s inarticulately groaning measurements. T ithing shoebox challah, calmly Conley “chin-ups” Lowrance contradicted Barbara Johnson B ut now, Baha Men ask: “Who let the dogs out?” A socritease, that sing, tickled my fanny A pril 26, 2011 last. Bahamanian blisses blessed his kisses. aAhaha Tinktong. R ichard (Dick familiarly to familiar’s too familiar familiars) Moran explained meaning. T ransparent mental states swell swell concomitant avec Vinton Freedley’s backing, parlour de... Continue reading
Posted Sep 27, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week's post offers up a prompt for our creative consideration with the topic of: your name! As Mr. Lehman so masterfully puts it: "When spoken, a person’s name likely affects him or her more than any other word in a language. It is also possible that one’s name can serve as the subject or the scaffolding of a poem." For example, Mr. Lehman used his own name to create an acrostic poem as follows: David means “beloved” in Hebrew, and Lehman might lead me to Lac Léman in Switzerland or to the failure of a certain investment firm 10 years ago. Here’s a quick acrostic: Do I believe in a supreme being? Against all odds, in the face of all reason, I Veer from the dogma of our day and Insist that faith remains Viable, if not visible, a prelude to a beloved state. What turns will your own poem take? Visit the American Scholar's page for more inspiration, an alternate assignment, and to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Sep 19, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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On this week's installment of Next Line, Please, dated September 11th, a day many of us remember solemnly and viscerally, David Lehman takes a moment to talk about the beauty of truth and the wonderful fact that, even during the harsh political environment we have seen in the last few years, Next Line, Please has remained a place for poetry, camaraderie, and conversation. He tells us how he (and others: New Yorkers, Americans, sentimental beings) is "moved to tears when he thinks of the sacrifices made in the face of an implacable hatred of our culture and institutions." It is true: nothing binds people together like tragedy, but even more so, the mending and healing that comes after. But anyway, back to the real meat of our Tuesday's: the weekly writings that David is convinced is not unlike "five-finger exercises in piano music." I think he's got something there. This week there were awards on the line for the best and the shortest poems on the theme of "the best." Keith Barrett wins for brevity with his untitled four-word double rhyme: Best quest Grail tale In a second poem, Keith reduces “Vow,” to its quintessence: I Do The Jane Austen heroine in me quivers with excitement. Then we have Ravindra Rao’s “Perfectionism,” a lovely display of many bests: I was the best high school debater In the country until someone better Changed the game. Then I became the best At regret, until someone sobbed distinctively On the news and it went viral et cet. For years I was the best drifter, in & out of house parties like whispers Until the gin bred a new type of human Even better at thin tendencies, with Even a stronger liver. For years the river Was my best friend, babbling me secrets About where it’s from, what it’s seen. Its source Is in the high-up mountain of forms: A burial mound that reaches to the sun. Clay Sparkman’s “The Best Murderous Dictator of All Time Is Idi Amin” lives up to its arresting title: Of course, if one is content to look at mere kill-counts, then I suppose Stalin rules. Yet, once into the quarter-mil club, that number is just a number. How much blood can we comprehend? That’s where style becomes the ultimate measure. Idi was like Satchmo with an accordion. He laughed, he sang, he danced, and he boozed— a cut up and a clown. Idi played the joker. He courted your heart all night long. And when he shared his final joke at the touch of dawn, you still loved him—he said so— even in that final moment, touching cold steel, as piss ran down your shaking legs. The image of Idi Amin as “Satchmo with an accordion” is striking, and I find the line breaks particularly excellent. And finally, a poem by me, your faithful NLP reporter! Virginia Valenzuela’s “Untitled” presents a moment of "pure pleasure," a cocktail on an urban terrace: First day of September and some leaves... Continue reading
Posted Sep 12, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week week on Next Line, Please, Mr. Lehman offers us a brand new prompt, and as usual, it's a best of the best! Write a poem about “the best” example you know of: the best practitioner of any field, art, craft, profession the greatest string quintet or chess match the best third baseman ever to don a Yankee uniform the best first line of a novel the most beautiful Vermeer painting the most interesting museum the best statue in Central Park. You get the idea. Take liberties: What was the best century in which to be alive? What is the greatest line Shakespeare ever wrote? What's the best topping for pizza or ice cream? And for those of you who think that the superlative "best" is actually the worst, write a poem as to why “the best” is a contested term. Entries should be 14 lines or less, due this Saturday at midnight any time zone. And a special addition: To the authors of (1) the best poem and (2) the briefest, we’ll send a complimentary copy of The Best American Poetry 2018. Visit the American Scholar's page to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Aug 28, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week’s prompt brought us from a predetermined opening line (“It is impossible to love the same person twice”) to a predetermined closing line (“A thought is as real a thing as a cannonball”), both from the notebooks of Joseph Joubert, as translated from the French by Paul Auster. Pamela Joyce S took a few whacks at it, resulting in this lovely (and biting) poem: “The Art of Loving Thought” You, my love, are an impossible river. If crossing once is unwise, twice is suicide. I steel myself and venture in, treading tenderly among your bruised blue minnows. Tadpoles scatter seeking cover as we spar and bear our arms. Impossible to win or lose, I humbly twice surrender. But, oh my dear, your deadly art is like seeds of shrapnel speeding through my heart. I cannot speak, retreat, or think at all, Your thoughts are as real as a cannonball. Eric Fretz goes in another direction, performing great feats of wordplay that I find quite genius: It is impossible to love the same person twice. It isn’t possible to love the sane person’s wife. It isn’t possible, Tulip, the sane person’s wise. If it’s not plausible two lips, insane parson’s why. (The crazy vicar wore a mask and never spoke in words Except, when out of earshot, to the birds: “Forgive me, starlings, for you know that I have sinned,” And waited for a prophet, like the wind, A thawed Isaiah acting as a commoner, A thaw disaster aching as a common awl As thou, Israel, aching as a cannon calls: “A thought is as real a thing as a cannonball.”) Following suggestions from fellow contributors, Byron combined parts from two entries and came up with something really special, the repetition of the last line packing a punch. It is impossible to love the same person twice. But it is possible to think. To the happy man at end of day each thought is a drink of spring water but not to the soldier in the field or the condemned man against the wall to whom A thought is as real a thing as a cannonball. But our romance was different. It was a war full of border skirmishes, ceasefire treaties brokered by domineering hegemonic powers, isolated anarchist outrages, antiwar protests, and the last thoughts in a dying soldier’s mind. A thought is as real a thing as a cannonball. Visit the American Scholar's to read the full post, with even more great poems and comments! Continue reading
Posted Aug 22, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week on Next Line, Please, quizmaster Lehman has provided a new prompt: a game of poetry chess in which the first and last moves are already determined, and you, the writer, have 10 moves to connect them. Who will be the first to take on this challenge and win by check mate? Here are the lines: Line one: “It is impossible to love the same person twice.” Last line: “A thought is as real a thing as a cannonball.” Here are the rules: —You do not have to agree with either of the statements given, and your poem may begin with a dissent. —You may put either or both of the statements in quote marks. —You may rhyme but you’re not obliged to do so. —You may give your poem a title. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post (with more details) and to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Aug 14, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Last week on Next Line, Please, the masterful David Lehman gave us a prompt in which we were tasked with writing two lines of a poem every day, and then putting them all together on the 7th day. We were allowed to rephrase, rewrite, repeat, and reposition any and all lines produced during the week. The experiment yielded many different outcomes, including a lovely use of the refrain, and a rather clever repetition of "I've said it before: nothing repeats." I thought it best, though, to copy here the penultimate poem, put together by Mr. Lehman, and which was comprised of all the other selected poems, as well as stellar lines from out there in the field. I give you, "Poem in Three Parts" 1. I am leaving one for another, one home for another today. (Ivan Brave) Solos in the branches begin again, Once more. (Beth Dufford) I’ve said it before: nothing repeats. (Michael C. Rush) 2. If the eyes are the windows of the soul, (Byron) You were looted amusement, (Stephanie Cohen) You were lashed lonesomeness, (Stephanie Cohen) Peaches in the cobalt bowl. (Christine Rhein) Sometimes I think I wrote a noose. Luckily, I wrote it loose. (Eric Fretz) 3. We found a hole in the ceiling tonight; it kept us awake, leaking moonlight. (Elizabeth Solsburg) If the eyes are the windows, Where is the door? (Byron) What calm. Once more. (Beth Dufford) I’ve said it before: nothing repeats. (Michael C. Rush) Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post, including the original poems in which some of these lines were created! Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week on Next Line, Please, we have two new prompts for all to engage with. 1. Write two lines a day, starting today; recording each day your daily lines; and combining and recombining the 12 lines on Saturday, August 4. In the final product, feel free to eliminate a line, revise a line, or repeat a line to take the place of one that has been excised. You may cheat. (Whatever that means. Wink!) 2. Write two-line poems—10 of them—on the theory that you may get one really good two-line poem per every 10 written. Hint hint: Mix it up! Include an epitaph, a riddle, a joke, a quote, a definition, and at least one rhyming couplet. For reader’s ease, make each two-line poem a separate entry. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post and to enter your candidates! Continue reading
Posted Aug 3, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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In last week's post of Next Line, Please, contributor's were asked to write an abecedarian poem in 26 words that would recount the plot of a particular novel, book, or play. We thought this one might be challenging, but the Next Line, Please contributors filled the poetry caravan with enticingly good recapitulations. Diana Ferraro’s “Hamlet” tells us a little something about betrayal, violence, and the essence of truth: Ardent betrayal casts dice! Elsinore fights ghosts! Hamlet is jinxed. Kingdom, law, mother, new occurrences pose questions, raise subjects. Truth unearths violent wisdom. Xyphoid yarn zips Elizabeth Solsburg’s “Garden of Eden” yields such gems as “devil’s ethereal food” and “repitilian slithering”: Adam becomes concerned— devil’s ethereal food grows here—its jaded knowledge like memory. Night opens pretended quiet, reptilian slithering— turbulence unimpeded. Victorious wickedness. Expelled, yearning. Zero Donald LaBranche chose an interesting and unexpected book to summarize: Varina by Charles Frazier. It concerns Varina Davis, the wife of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy: A book concerning defeat. Every foray grows hell-bound. Irascible justice kills legends marching nightly overcoming persistence. Quirky road signs tragically undergird Varina’s waxing xeric— yesteryear’s zeitgeist. And finally, a cento created by our own David Lehman to illustrate the many exceptional lines created for this week's prompt: Absent belief, —Patricia Smith As before, —George Collodi Adam becomes concerned. —Elizabeth Solsburg Abel: Buried; —Keith Barrett Cain: Detained. —Keith Barrett Anne beheaded! – —Millicent Caliban cockney dream —Angela Ball devours elephant —Charise Hoge emancipating friends —Michael C. Rush for grown-ups — —Charise Hoge hat inferred —Charise Hoge ghost, gentlemen, graves. —Ferraro; Caliban; Joyce Hamlet is jinxed. —Diana Ferraro Jesus! Krapp’s —Keith Barrett Jumbo knockout. —Christine Rhein Keys lend meaning. —Pamela Joyce Matrimonial negotiations —Millicent Caliban openly pursue —Michael C. Rush quest requiring serious thought, —Pamela Joyce rose-fingered skies. —Bryan Johnson Quest realized: —LB reptilian slithering. —Elizabeth Solsburg Opaque Party people Quicken Results. —Stephanie Cohen Reality —Michael C. Rush slams the unctuous, viscous wallop, —LB seeks triumphant union —Millicent Caliban underground. Violins wail: —Steve Belin-Oka Vixen-vengeance: —Christine Rhein victorious wickedness: —Elizabeth Solsburg vaulting whiteness. —Bryan Johnson Weltanschauung —Angela Ball extinguishing yahoo zealots. —Michael C. Rush Yaqui zen. —Michael C. Rush Youthful zest. —Millicent Caliban Yesteryear’s zeitgeist. —Donald LaBranche Yearning’s zenith. —David Lehman. For more abecedarians check out this post from December, and visit the American Scholar's page to read the whole post from last week! Continue reading
Posted Jul 28, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
The New School After Hours on July 20th, 2018 Come one, come all, to the hippest literary scene in the East Village! Hosted by Virginia Valenzuela 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 a little after 7pm We can't wait to see you there! Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Come one, come all, to the newly renovated digital platform for Next Line, Please on the American Scholar! You will like what you see. And now to the good stuff. Last week's post featured poems inspired by the style of abstract things, or in other words, "poems in the manner of." Faced with the job, Angela Ball chose to define a style of living: Louche glamor bound me to Dietrich, Garbo, and Bacall. Subversive Hepburn wore my power with knowledge. From me Dunaway and Keaton gained swagger, sparked fads. Habitué of war and escape, I pocket time. Don’t look, here I am now, shouldering my way into the room. For sheer cleverness it would be hard to compete with Steve Bellin-Oka’s “Poem in the Manner of the Muse as Real Estate Agent”: This new sonnet’s amortization rate is unfavorable— by the time your closing couplet pays off, you’ll have needed a new polyethylene heating oil tank, two water heaters, and a full copper re-pipe job. And the loan inspector’s report notes that even though the shiny iambic pentameter paneling in the octave looks solid, underneath in the sestet the wall joints are starting to fray like the hem of a well-worn skirt. Your volta creaks as it turns—there’s another costly repair on the horizon. May I speak frankly? You’re not young anymore. Down the street in your discarded draft drawer there’s a better investment. It may look like a shithole now, but all it needs is a stanza wall knocked out to let the light breathe. Hardwood floors enjambed and buffed and shined. Darren Lyons’s effort to construct a poem out of materials derived from the year of his birth came up with an intriguing, choppy, and visceral piece. Here is “1975 (to Rothko)”: five years gone, something reached up and bit my mom, as if you entered the blood flow, as you painted, as you bled. Red. my sign is red. watergate does not bother me, you entered me as i left the womb. Dad has a scared left knee from Kent State, student-thrown concrete, from the day before the four. five years gone, the boat people flow. The challenge for next week: to sum up a novel, movie, book, or play in a 26-word abecedarius. Usually an abecedarius consists of 26 words, the first beginning with “a,” the second with “b,” and so forth. For example, David Lehman's "Antigone": Against brutal Creon, doll establishes fugitive greatness. His internal justice, knowledge law mean nothing, only piety. Questing revenge, she triumphs, uttering virginal wounds extravagant, yearning’s zenith. Visit the American Scholar's page to read the full post and to enter your candidate! Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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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 Jul 11, 2018 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