Next Line, Please

“Come live with me and be my love”

By David Lehman | February 6, 2018
Phil O'Driscoll/Flickr

Week after week, the consistent high quality of the entries gladdens my heart, but it does put me in a weekly dilemma, because I can cite only some of the entries for praise. NLP regulars know I do not take them for granted whether or not I get to quote their poems each week.

Jack Bellicec’s “Spoiler Alert” wins top honors this week with his loving appreciation of a major movie rendered into 10 haiku, half devoted to the plot, the other half to the credits:

Sweet Smell of Success
stars the great Tony Curtis
as a press agent

and Burt Lancaster
becomes J. J. Hunsecker,
big time columnist

whose sister, Susan,
is in love with Steve Dallas,
a jazz guitarist.

J. J. hates Dallas,
Falco (Curtis) needs some cash,
makes Dallas look like

a pothead commie.
Susan figures it all out,
walks out on J. J.

*****

Postscript/End Credits:
Other stars: Martin Milner,
Susan Harrison

Written by Clifford
Odets and Ernest Lehman
Shot by James Wong Howe

and Directed by
Alexander Mackendrick
(The Ladykillers,

A Boy Ten Feet Tall,
A High Wind in Jamaica
)
whose screenplays include

the following films:
Saraband for Dead Lovers
and Midnight Menace.

Like “Spoiler Alert,” Eric Fetzer’s “Erased de Kooning, 1953” puts the haiku stanza to the service of a spontaneous essay—in this case on a pivotal moment in the history of modern art.

Rauschenberg erased
A tough de Kooning drawing
Leaving a smudged trace.

Was it a lecture,
Destruction as creation,
A dada gesture?

But the gesture left
Subtle marks on white paper
So we’re not bereft

Of media, form
As expression of movement:
Not out of the norm,

Just new medium.
But many of these would be
Awful tedium

Michael C. Rush’s “Blow, Wind” seems to advocate discarding poetry while exalting the deep source of all poems:

No more poetry.
All rhymes are accidental,
lack utility.

Only the wind now
will I listen to. It won’t
insist why or how

things happen, or can’t.
Or tell me nothing matters,
or chide, cut, or grant,

grudgingly, a sense,
a temporary feeling,
worth all this expense.

Blow, wind, blow. Give me
sensation without meaning—
the truth, probably.

I would commend Michael also for his penetrating criticism, confidently delivered—as when, in appreciation of Ravindra Rao’s effort, he takes a comment by Clay Sparkman and uses it to exemplify the lineation he’d like to see Ravindra try: “This is the treat / I get / for staying at / the gym late.”

I admired Millicent Caliban’sScavenger”:

When you burn driftwood,
the flames are lavender blue—
the smoke poisons you.

Soaked in from the sea
are the ocean’s metal salts—
burning sets them free.

Hidden inside things,
history has been absorbed
that set on fire sings.

Beauty in the gaze
bewitches understanding—
masks what truths may raise.

On the beach pick up
those shells washed onto the shore—
listening yields more.

Am I crazy or would Millicent’s poem be even stronger without stanza three? In my own effort at a narrative poem, I took the advice implicit in the previous sentence and lopped off a stanza:

It took the skater
sixteen seconds to create
her last figure eight,

and in those sixteen
seconds, the haiku ended,
the light turned green,

you grew up, became
an author of children’s books,
earned your share of fame,

while I moved to New
York, worked for CBS News,
and never met you.

Diana Ferraro wondered “what surprise the fifth stanza may have given us. An open-ended poem!” I wondered right back how she and others would “complete the poem in 17 syllables.” Of the worthy contenders that came in, I particularly liked Stephanie Cohen’s stanza. It begins with a tip of the cap to the inventor of the ice-resurfacer, the machine crucial to the maintenance of an ice-skating rink: “Mr. Zamboni / does his job. The eights in ice / frozen in time, twice.” I confess I enjoyed and benefitted from the compliments and the criticisms I got. My thanks to all.

While my poem as it stands may seem a fragment, Angela Ball’s “Storm Glass” offers evidence that a poem consisting of four stanzas can get the job done without seeming incomplete:

Glow of a weather-
discerning globe above the
preserves factory,

lucent rim of la-
titude, flash of pin impal-
ing an undrawn map,

the stoppered glint of
radium girls, the extin-
guished experiments

of Marie—my lit
confusion at a chest
tattoo, soft power.


As next Wednesday is the 14th of February, Valentine’s Day, for our next prompt may I suggest that we study strategies for writing poems of love, sexual desire, compliments to the beloved, or injunctions to seize the day.

These models occur to me: Christopher Marlowe’s “Come live with me and be my love,” Shakespeare’s sonnet 130 (“My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun”), Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine,” John Donne’s “To His Mistress Going to Bed,” Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” and these poems you will find in The Oxford Book of American Poetry:  Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnets, H. Phelps Putnam’s “Sonnets to Some Sexual Organs,” Bessie Smith’s “Empty Bed Blues,” Charles Simic’s “My Beloved,” and Sharon Olds’s “Topography.”

The trick is to articulate a familiar poetic utterance in a fresh way, surprising the reader. Use at least one metaphor or simile. 10 lines or less, divided into stanzas or not, as you wish. Feel free to borrow a tactic or a phrase from any of the aforementioned scholars of love.

Deadline: Saturday, February 1o, midnight any time zone.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

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