Next Line, Please

Help Us Write a Sonnet: The Title

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By David Lehman

August 5, 2014


 

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 in Tucson,

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

 

Freedom starts or ends with a funeral.

I once watched men with Uzis guard the Pope:

No hope, no hope, no hope, no hope, no hope.

What buzz can cheer this gloomy canticle?

 

Redemption is a swift revolving door:

A revolution ends the inner war.

 


The title that fits our sonnet best, I think, is “Monday.” Laura Cronk proposed it (and it was seconded by the pseudonymous “Thoroughly Pizzled”). “Monday” works because the thoughts of our collective sonneteer are informed by the back-to-work (or back-to-school) blues folks may feel on Monday mornings. And “Monday” recurs; it happens each week, departs, and comes back, and is thus like our revolutionary swinging door.

Other admirable one-word titles were submitted by Berwyn Moore (“Spin” and “Discharge”), MQ (“Cubiditas”), Joy Jacobson (“Sonnet”), but I would award second-place honors to Diana’s “In and Out.” The simplicity of “A Revolution” (Helen Klein Ross) or just plain “Revolution” (Jane Keats) also commends itself.

Cathy McAarthur Palermo’s “Riding the Number Seven Line” has its specificity going for it—it’s a well-known subway line between Manhattan and Queens—and it’s all the better that the phrase contains the word “line.” Greg Palermo’s “”Watch the Gap” is subtle; I’d have liked it even better in the British form, “Mind the Gap.”  I wasn’t closed-minded about “The Crowded Mind” (Katie Whitney), in which, perhaps, the image of the overloaded brain merges with that of a crowded train. Two-word phrases displaying ingenuity or charm or sometimes both surfaced: David St. John’s  “Resurrection Shuffle,” MQ’s “Smoke Break” and “Human Recourse,” Anne Payne’s “Cubular Vortex.”  And I could add three or four others that made me smile.

Lewis Saul recommends that we change the terminal stanza break—dividing the poem into three stanzas of four lines each followed by a closing couplet.  I agree; the symmetry of the new arrangement is even stronger if we end line two of stanza three with a colon.

Let’s leave it for future scholars to interpret the poem. I will limit myself to saying that the poem may be read as a plea from the inmates of the Bastille yearning for a revolution.  According to another allegorical reading, the poem chronicles the oscillations of a mind that swings regularly from hopelessness to the prospect (or the mirage) of redemption. Other subjects the poem addresses, directly or not, include the paradox of imaginative liberty despite physical confinement; the constraints of the work place, and the lure of escape and its costs; the sonnet form and its traditions and this example in particular.

I am proud of the work we did on “Monday.”

Next week we initiate a brand-new contest. Please tune in, turn on, take part.


WINNER’S CIRCLE

 

Monday (Laura Cronk)

 

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 in Tucson (Lewis Saul)

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

 

Freedom starts or ends with a funeral.

I once watched men with Uzis guard the Pope: (James the Lesser)

No hope, no hope, no hope, no hope, no hope. (Jamie)

What buzz can cheer this gloomy canticle? (Sandra M. Gilbert)

 

Redemption is a swift revolving door: (MQ)

A revolution ends the inner war. (Katie Whitney)

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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