Next Line, Please

An Epigraph in Search of a Poem

By David Lehman | October 30, 2018
Flickr/Frode Bjorshol
Flickr/Frode Bjorshol

What prompts a poem into existence? I suspect that many poems are byproducts of reading. We come across an arresting line and think of it as a point of departure.

As a young poet, I read an essay by Walter Benjamin on Charles Baudelaire. I was struck by Benjamin’s observation about the effect of photography on urban light: “The camera gave the moment a posthumous shock.” I promptly wrote a poem with this line as my epigraph, and I remember fondly the intensity of that experience.

In The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton has a line that I’ve long thought deserves a poem of its own: “We can’t behave like people in novels, though, can we?” It seems to me that a symmetrical, two stanza poem under 14 lines might work here, allowing for a duet, if not a dialogue. Or would an unrhymed sonnet better suit the occasion? Good luck, everyone. If I write such a poem, I’ll share my effort.

It’s up to you whether to use Wharton’s line as an epigraph or as a line in your poem—possibly the terminal line of one or both stanzas.

Please feel free to enter multiple times and to revise what you’ve submitted. Deadline: Saturday, November 3, midnight wherever you are.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

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