Next Line, Please

Help Us Write a Sonnet: Lines Eight and Nine

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By David Lehman

June 24, 2014


 

Click here to read previous lines from our crowd-sourced sonnet, and here for David Lehman’s description of the history and requirements of the form.


How like a prison is my cubicle,

And yet how far my mind can freely roam

From gaol to Jerusalem, Hell to home.

Freedom ends or starts with a funeral.

Say what must die inside that I may not

Cast down this die and cross the Rubicon

Thence to the true hell: the heat of Tucson

Where drug lords blaze loads of coke, meth, and pot.

Freedom starts, or ends, with a funeral,


Line eight was suggested by Diana (no last name given): “Where drug lords blaze loads of coke, meth, and pot.” I like the way the line rubs our nose into a harsh reality. The succession of ten monosyllables and the strong alliteration of “r” and “l” sounds in the first part of the line clinch the deal. The line sounds a conclusive note to the first eight lines of our sonnet whether we take them as one block or as two four-line stanzas.

First runner-up is Sandra M. Gilbert’s “Where seething freeways tangle in a knot.” I admire “seething freeways” and how the flowing assonance of that phrase gets dead-ended abruptly. The line also has the virtue of conveying via concealment the words “free” and “not.”

Third place goes to Beth Gylys’s “Where cold comforts, and retirees move to rot,” which artfully converts the familiar adjective-plus-noun phrase, “cold comforts,” into a noun-plus-verb construction. Like Gylys, Robert Schultz dwells on the contrast between hot desert and air-conditioned interior: “And this icy office—and for what?”

Some clever entries help make the case for the pun as an underrated figure of speech. Jennifer Rapuzzi’s “Let not saguaro be the farm I bought” and “Will I, ‘too tough to die,’ need Tombstone wrought?” are two examples. Jamie echoes Milton: “Better to reign in the desert than [to] rot.” Jerry Williams has a metaphysical take (“Where thoughtlessness cremates what’s left of thought”) as does Charles Marsh, who opts for a biblical allusion (“Where Lazarus transformed my might to ought”). Millicent Caliban proffers some practical advice: “Which none withstands unless he smokes some pot.”

For line nine, I propose to duplicate line four, with a flip of the verbs: “Freedom starts, or ends, in a funeral.” The repetition with variation would impose some formal order and pattern on our efforts and perhaps point us in the right direction going forward.

Line ten need not rhyme, but contestants will want to start thinking of rhyme words—“original,” “hospital,” “Goneril”—for use down the line.


WINNER’S CIRCLE:

 

How like a prison is my cubicle, (DL)

And yet how far my mind can freely roam (Leo Braudy)

From gaol to Jerusalem, Hell to home. (Brian Anderson and his 12th grade composition class)

Freedom ends or starts with a funeral. (Frank Bidart)

Say what must die inside that I may not (MQ)

Cast down this die and cross the Rubicon (Anna E. Moss)

Thence to the true hell: the heat of Tucson (Lewis Saul)

Where drug lords blaze loads of coke, meth, and pot. (Diana)

Freedom starts, or ends, with a funeral,

 


Leave your suggestion for the next line in a comment below. Please limit your entries to five.

David Lehman is the series editor for The Best American Poetry annual anthology. He has published eight books of poetry, the most recent of which is New and Selected Poems.

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