Next Line, Please

Blues in the Night

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By David Lehman

February 16, 2016


 

 

I write this on February 15, the birthday of the composer Harold Arlen, who wrote the music for “The Wizard of Oz” and for such great songs as “Blues in the Night,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and “That Old Black Magic.”

We have no fewer than three winning entries this week.

Charise Hoge supplies the first line of the new three-line stanza that emerged. Charise proffers

The sin rests its cheek upon the ground and furrows a cruel stamp.

The line is based on “The wind rests its cheek upon the ground and feels the cool damp ” from “Hymn to Life” by James Schuyler, who is indeed as “remarkable” a poet as Cherise says.

Patricia Smith contributes our second line:

When worrisome things lead them to leap in the night,

Which is based on Johnny Mercer’s lyric for Arlen’s “Blues in the Night”: A worrisome thing who’ll leave ya to sing the blues in the night.

Smith gets an assist on line three, which is Angela Ball’s inventive adaptation of two lines from Arlen songs:

Mama am and am, sings, “Love lived twists deepest blue.”

The line derives from “Blues in the Night” (lyric by Johnny Mercer) and, I think, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” (lyric by Ted Koehler).

So here’s where we are:

Guns fret not at their chamber’s narrow doom. (DL)
Snug in our amber mood, we take too little care of what they do. (Angela Ball)

Here is the street where frightened children prowl (Elizabeth Solsburg)
About their buried innocence, and race (Elizabeth Solsburg)

About the rubied ledge from which our darlings jump too soon. (Paul Michelsen)
The sin rests its cheek upon the ground and furrows a cruel stamp. (Charise Hoge)

When worrisome things lead them to leap in the night, (Patricia Smith)
Mama am and am, sings, “Love lived twists deepest blue.” (Angela Ball)


The strategy last week worked so well that I advocate doing it again. Write a line that refashions an earlier line—the way that, say, “Dope springs eternal in the American West” plays on Pope’s “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Have fun with it.

And let’s see what happens. We’re only six lines away from the length of a sonnet, although an unconventional one most certainly.

Deadline: Sunday, February 21, 2016, noon (any time zone).


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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