Next Line, Please

A Plot Twist–or Two

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By David Lehman

January 5, 2016


 

Here are the finalists, as I saw it, for line 13:

Millicent Caliban
Look at the way they look at us. As though we’re too
Mad in our pursuit. Love save us if he can!

Charise Hoge

Look at the way they look at us. As though we’re too
Precipitous with a plot, as if he can

Paul Michelsen

Look at the way they look at us. As though we’re too
Wasteful with wishes. The jailer wonders if he can

M. H. Perry

Look at the way they look at us. As though we’re too
Slow to choose something from the menu. If he can

Michael C. Rush

Look at the way they look at us. As though we’re too
Free—too free! And, jealous, he’ll jail us if he can

All of these lines have their attractions. Charise Hoge’s “Precipitous with a plot, as if he can” gets the nod because in its alliterative way it continues the suspension that we initiated in the previous line. The word “plot” in particular is good to have, denoting as it does either a conspiracy or a narrative line. Second place honors go to M. H. Perry’s “Slow to choose something from the menu. If he can,” which has the charm of whimsy but is undeniably real—a vivid simile.


Line 14 promises to be not only our ultimate line but a line on which much emphasis will fall.  The only requirement: the line must end with the word “Man” (or “man” or “the wrongs of Man”).

And now for the second plot twist of the day. Let’s do something different this week. I want to propose a 14th line, and this is my candidate:

Trust ourselves to write the wrongs of Man.

In advocating it I would point to the pun on “write” (“right”) and the strong meter —an opening spondee (“trust” rhyming with “just,” “lust,” and “must” above) followed by four robust iambs. And it seems to bring all to a conclusion that, I hope, does justice to the complexities of previous lines.

Now (if we accept my candidate for line 14), what does our effort “mean”? What does it add up to? Please feel free, this week and next, to venture your opinion and even offer a succinct analysis—as though the poem were by a deceased person of great interest. We also need a title, so keep that in mind. And by the way, I can also promise a revelation next week.

Here’s our poem (tentatively):

Our dreams as disparate as our days uniform, Michael C. Rush
We crave a lovely scandal with someone well-known; Angela Ball
Midnight champagne, penthouse lit by thunderstorm, Christine Rhein
In this version of darkness, we are never alone. Elizabeth Solsburg

If marriage is a cage, we can force the lock, but he Christine Rhein
Clutches the key, a jailer too stubborn to learn Patricia Smith
To read the graffiti. If need be, he can turn  Paul Michelsen
A bouquet to a wreath. Then we will be Poem Today

Two mourners arguing terms of interment. We must       Angela Ball
Appease our lust, our momentary bliss subject to               Berwyn Moore
The rules of engagement. The conflicts of lust. Just          Joe Lawlor

Look at the way they look at us. As though we’re too          Brandon Crist
Precipitous with a plot, as if we can                              Charise Hoge
Trust ourselves to write the wrongs of man.                         David Lehman

Congratulations to all the winners and thanks to all good-hearted participants whether you’ve been with us from line one or have joined us since.

Deadline: Noon, Sunday, January 9, 2016.


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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