Next Line, Please

Diss All Cumbrances

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By David Lehman

September 30, 2014


 

“I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim.”—Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

 

Write what you think; walk what you write. [Berwyn Moore]

A fly’s blue buzz once helped a poet die. [Willard Spiegelman]

Let’s be misunderstood, you and me and I. [Amanda J. Bradley]

Diss all cumbrances bitching for a fight. [Leonard Kress]


Leonard Kress’s “Diss all cumbrances bitching for a fight,” struck me as the most compelling entry this week, because the diction is so savagely anti-poetic—begun with “Diss,” sustained with “bitching”—even while the line conforms to poetic expectation by rhyming emphatically, continuing the flow of imperatives, and opting for “cumbrances” rather than a more pedestrian synonym.

Other worthy entries were also commands in the Emersonian manner. Joe Lawlor’s “Disregard your erudition for one night” sounds erudite while counseling against the intellect. Diana’s “Diminish to grow, move forward and lie” begins with a paradox and concludes with a two-faced word, “lie” as to rest versus “lie” as to tell untruths. Rebecca Epstein dares to speak up for the self against the claims of others: “Do for you, not for others’ delight.” Emerson would have approved. Michael Wallace pours on the alliteration with a vengeance and rhymes his adverbs elegantly: “Decisively declare your desires; Derisively dismiss your doubters.”

Now we need our best line—the fifth line, on whose shoulders rests the task of completing the poem and unifying it, perhaps by stressing an element already present. The line must begin with the letter O to complete our anagram. It might be hard to resist an exclamatory line beginning “O,” and I would recommend rhyming with either “fight” or “die.” Be capricious but not puerile; be succinct but not minimal; be thoughtful but not pretentious. No one said it’s easy. But puzzles are most enjoyable when most difficult to solve.

Deadline: midnight, Sunday, October 5.


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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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