Next Line, Please

A Wardrobe of Excuses

By David Lehman | October 2, 2018
Lothar Wolleh/Wikimedia Commons

I’m fascinated by the phrase “a wardrobe of excuses,” which comes from Auden’s great elegy for Sigmund Freud. It implies that the clothes we wear have certain things in common with masks: they disguise us, and in doing so they express us, projecting a version of who we are.

This week, I propose that we write a poem (or more than one) from the point of view of a garment in your closet. It can be a dress or a suit, a coat or a jacket, or even a pair of shoes. The poem can be sartorial in nature. If the wardrobe item would like to speak about your taste or your body, or to converse about you with another garment on the rack, fine. One of the pleasures of poetry is to animate an inanimate object and give it a voice. If the “apparel oft proclaims the man,” what do your clothes say about the person who inhabits them? Can the history of a person be inferred from the history of a garment?

A defense of old-fashioned accoutrements (cufflinks, for example, or bow ties), would be welcome, as would an informative little poem about the “New Look” of the late 1940s, of which I know very little about except that it was a major development in fashion and that Christian Dior may have had something to do with it.

René Magritte made a wonderful painting titled Les valeurs personnelles, in which you will find an oversized comb, shaving brush, match, cake of soap, and wine glass. It illustrates one possible direction to take this prompt.

Awards will go to (1) the best poem under 16 lines, (2) the best poem in three three-line stanzas, and (3) the best brief poem. NLP regulars are well aware of your captain’s delight in brevity. Deadline: Saturday, October 6, 2018, midnight any time zone.

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