Next Line, Please

The Tanka in Toto

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By David Lehman

August 26, 2014


 

In the contest for the best two-line tail to Paul Breslin’s haiku, the laurels go to Barbara Shine:

 

The wheat bends before the wind,

rehearsing its surrender.

 

The highly visual first line shifts our focus from the sickle to the grain—from the manmade tool to the part of nature it means to glean. The second line delivers a double jolt: “rehearsing” introduces a theatrical metaphor, and “surrender” a military one, and somehow the combination of the two terms is more sensual than it is threatening. The lines are very musical. I would single out the brilliant double alliteration of “b” and “w” words in line one and the consonantal repetition of “nd” sounds: bends, wind, surrender.

Brittany Flaherty takes second place with “Keen to shake off the shackles / Of dust and reap once again.” The opening line catches our attention with the sounds of “shake” and “shackles,” and the enjambment is elegant: the pause at line’s end before the “shackles” turn out to be figurative (“Of dust”) but no less constraining for that. It is also lovely that Flaherty’s last word, “again,” rhymes with “grain,” the final word of the Paul Breslin haiku that forms the first stanza of our tanka.

There’s a three-way tie for third place. In Beth Gylys’s entry—“Who knew the sharp instrument / so longed for its beheadings?”—the last word is a devastating surprise, affecting us all the more because of the horrific beheading of an American reporter by jihadists in Iraq last week. Aaron Fagan’s entry—“The twisted farmer mirrors / The snath but rises to fell”—displays a species of metaphysical wit not only in its brilliant conclusion but in the mirror imagery. It was good for this city boy to learn that “snath” denotes the handle of a scythe. Kushal Poddar’s lines—“the body of water down / the ditch, dawn dons shawls of mist”—are strongly alliterative in the Hopkins manner and altogether appealing.

Honorable mention: Evelyn C. for “Beyond sleep’s shade, summer stalks / still sway, slow below warm winds” and Deborah B. Shepherd for “Under the shed a stray seed / Plays hooky and dreams of spring.” This week we received a collaborative entry: Huy Don proposed the first line (“World’s passed, no thresh left to hold”) and Joy Jacobson the second (“Grim gleams on the iron blade”).

Here is the tanka in toto, consisting of Paul Breslin’s haiku and Babara Shine’s two-line ending. For consistency I have capitalized the first word of the last line:

 

August

 

The sickle, asleep

In its shed all year, begins

To dream of ripe grain.

 

The wheat bends before the wind,

Rehearsing its surrender.

 

Kudos to Mr. Breslin and Ms. Shine. I think we all won.

 

Next week we’ll start a new competition.

 

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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