Next Line, Please

Checkmate in 10 Moves

By David Lehman | August 14, 2018
Doug Kaye/Flicker

Poetry requires and rewards ingenuity. Raymond Roussel, the most avant-garde of all French writers, set himself the task of formulating a sentence that can be read in two completely different ways. He would then begin his composition with one of those meanings and write narrative prose that logically terminated with the second meaning.

Let me give an example that I remember from a reader’s guide to literary terms. If I write, “A dark horse won the triple crown,” it could mean either that a jet-colored three-year old colt won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont races or that the college of cardinals elected a long-shot candidate to be the new pope, wearer of a triple crown.

Let me modify this idea by proposing a first line and a last line and by asking you to fill in the 10 between them. Both lines are from the notebooks of Joseph Joubert, translated by Paul Auster,

Line one:  “It is impossible to love the same person twice.”

Last line:  “A thought is as real a thing as a cannonball.”

It may help to consider each of your lines as a move—in the sense that a chess problem may present you with a mid-game board and ask you to achieve checkmate in 10 moves.

Rules of the game:

—You do not have to agree with either of the statements given, and your poem may begin with a dissent.

—You may put either or both of the statements in quote marks.

—You may rhyme but you’re not obliged to do so.

—You may give your poem a title.

Good luck. Deadline: Saturday, August 18, 2018, midnight any time zone.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

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