A Hand of Frightening Lies


This week’s poets are wonderful prevaricators. Their skillful fibs create what Kenneth Koch might have called “fresh air.” Out of several fine contenders, I choose Jordan Sanderson’s:

The Roach

The roach did not speak to me.
It found my human form frightening.
It saw the kitchen light as a burning bush.
We did not share the tiramisu.
I did not kiss its dark wings.

The required syllable count for our “hand of lies” (791197) seems to encourage intensity in the longest line: “It saw the kitchen light as a burning bush.” But the final line, returning to the initial syllable count, delivers an even deeper thrill. Sanderson’s poem succeeds in appalling us with each implied reversal in this perverse encounter. The choice of “human form” is genius. Indeed, we are cut from the same cloth as the roach, a recognition sealed with the final kiss.

In second place, we have Charise Hoge’s hand of lies:


Swift she got under his thumb,
wooed to wed, cooed to wife, taut by grip
of charm to shush the alarm of her senses.
She pivots from the apparition:
a suave glove knuckling contempt.

Italian writer Elena Ferrante, her Neopolitan quartet of novels discussed here in The American Scholar, might well admire how Hoge’s lies enact the contortion of self that certain men can inspire in vulnerable women—particularly within the traditional milieu that is Ferrante’s context. Sheltered by falsity, such women have a cruel choice: escape or permanent effacement. Hoge’s brief poem dexterously employs hands—their physical, symbolic, and metonymic power—to deliver “Falsity” a knock-out blow.

This week I would like to inaugurate a new prize category, “Funniest Poem.” Hands down, this honor goes to Paul Michelsen’s darkly hilarious entry:

One Hiccup in an Otherwise Perfect Evening

A magician once made me
vanish. Her name was Elizabeth.
There’s only one problem with what Lizzie did
(I was told her last name was Boredom):
She brought me back cut in half.

For this week, we’ll reprise one of David Lehman’s genius prompts, a group Cento, but forge it from distinct material. Let’s call it Cento Resartus. I’d like you to write a four-line stanza, in flexible iambic pentameter, rhymed or unrhymed, using language (think phrase or sentence rather than individual words) from Thomas Carlyle’s 1836 novel, said to foreshadow postmodernism, Sartor Resartus. You’ll find the text free of charge here. An entertaining piece about the novel’s central metaphor, which may be of use, is here.

I do not recommend that you read (or reread) the entire work. The idea is to “poemize” Carlyle’s phrasing into a lively, arresting, perhaps mysterious stanza. Swift rather than labored composition might work best. We will create a group-composed cento of up to four stanzas. No title is needed at this point. Have fun, and remember to submit your stanza no later than midnight Eastern Time, Saturday, September 12.


Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Angela Ball is a professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi. She is the author of five poetry collections, including, most recently, Night Clerk at the Hotel of Both Worlds.


Please enter a valid email address
That address is already in use
The security code entered was incorrect
Thanks for signing up