Next Line, Please

A Liszt Poem

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By David Lehman

September 13, 2016


 

This week we endeavored to write, or at least to begin, a list poem on the model of such great songs as “You’re the Top,” “Thanks for the Memory,” “They Can’t That Away From me,” and “My Favorite Things” (among many other wonderful jazz standards).

First-place is taken by Elizabeth Solsburg, who begins with a merry pun—for “list” as inventory, she substitutes “Liszt” as in Franz the composer—and takes off from there.

 

A Liszt Poem

Tell me what you learned from Salieri —
soprano, sonata, meter, melody?
Was he the one who showed you how to play
like that, or perhaps he taught you how to pray
for the music, the symphonies,
the pure strong keys
of pianos in candled concert halls,
the fluidity of your fine strong fingers
calling down the liquid notes that linger
here, playing in Pandora’s box of treasure —
heaven created measure by measure.

 

The masterly rhymes and the sustained conceit add up to a tour de force. Brava.

Second place goes to Angela Ball for her very moving poem of praise. The one-word last line packs a terrific punch.

 

Praise

I praise the navy-colored watch cap
slouched atop your head in cold weather,

the holes in your twenty-year-old
undershirts, tondos for your honey-toned
Sicilian skin,

the flip sides of my poem drafts
you packed with algebraic calculations,

the Apricot Stars, baseball team
of your grandfather, and the street itself,
a rectitude of struts,

your elegant feet with their high
arches my last true glimpse of you,

your three-day beard, prefigurement
of this long winter,

your tears in the act of love
that you feared I might think
unmanly.

 

Bronze-medal winner Millicent Caliban gives us a Manhattan-centric invitation that commences as a variation of one of the most famous of all carpe diem poems of the Elizabeth age, Christopher Marlowe’s “Come Live with Me, and Be My Love”:

 

Come live with me and my love be:
I have two rooms in Chelsea.
City rents are so outrageous,
My hardwood floors advantageous;
Plus stunning view of Empire State,
The balcony with tiles of slate,
The fireplace with cozy rug,
The queen-sized bed with no bedbug,
Marble counters and laundry room,
A sun-filled nook where flowers bloom.
We even have a fitness gym;
The doorman caters to your whim.
It’s near the E ,F, Q and R;
Hip restaurants are not very far.
If to these charms your mind is bent,
Then live with me and share my rent.

 

Congratulations to all winners for their ingenuity and literary know-how.


It is far from official, but a publisher has expressed strong interest in printing a book of our columns to date. The working title is “Next Line, Please.” We would request permission from all those who are singled out for commendation in the posts, whether as winners or runners-up. Readers, please let us know if the idea of such a publication pleases you. Permissions are the bane of an editor’s existence, and I am hoping that signals of approval in the comments field will satisfy the sleepless legal department.


For next week, I propose that we write a poem about the contents of our wallets, purses, pocketbooks, handbags, you have it. If we can keep it under 12 lines, and include either (1) some anagrams or (2) three similes or (3) some strong alliteration, so much the better.

Deadline: Sunday September 18, at midnight in any time zone. Thank you, everyone.


David Lehman is a poet and the general editor of The Best American Poetry series. He teaches at The New School in New York City.

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