Next Line, Please

Doubling Down

By David Lehman | February 5, 2019
Flickr/Matthieu Sévère

We continue to build two poems this week. The opening stanzas, posted last week, are composites of lines provided by Pamela Joyce and Koahakumele (for the poem I have designated “A”), and Jay Ronson and Patricia Wallace (for “B”). For next week, I will look for a third stanza and a tentative title for each poem, even if they only prove to be placeholders.

There weren’t many entries for choice A, but they were, as Spencer Tracy said of Katharine Hepburn, “cherce.” One possibility, for what I shall dub A1, joins Angela Ball’s lines 5-7 and my own line 8, with this result:

I spend my days in an expanse of spirits,
vodka, scotch, tequila, gin—pick a poison then— [Pamela Joyce]
then spent, I slept; of reality dreamt;
and by mourning, could find no rest. [Koahakumele]

When night unstops its cross-boned bottle,
the dream: he killed a child by accident;
I protected him; even now, parents wait [Angela Ball]
where sat the two children we didn’t have. [David Lehman]

With the drama of the dream and the introduction of parents and children, the narrative possibilities are terrific.

Comprised of lines from Stephanie Cohen, Charise Hoge, Donald LaBranche, and Pamela Joyce, A2 extends the cocktail conceit, incorporates the blackbirds from our second poem-in-progress, and welcomes a second type of “spirits.”

I spend my days in an expanse of spirits,
vodka, scotch, tequila, gin—pick a poison then— [Pamela Joyce]
then spent, I slept; of reality dreamt;
and by mourning, could find no rest. [Koahakumele]

When, like a thieved wallet, the house emptied, [Stephanie Cohen]
we saw the blackbird-clustered face of night. [Donald LaBranche]
No absolution. Spirits, bring me absinthe. [Pamela Joyce]
a doleful pour not tasted before. [Charise Hoge]

As for the B poem, B1 combines two lines from Christa Whitsett Overbeck and singletons from Beth Dufour and Diana Ferrraro:

I spent my days in an expanse of spirit,
gave thanks to God for enemies with bad aim, [Jay Ronson]
as snow fell into the trees and blackbirds clustered
thick as leaves on the limbs, glossy shades of night. [Patricia Wallace]

When feathered darkness lifted up her hood
about my head, I saw that this was glory, too; [Christa Overbeck]
returning birds, retreating foes, [Beth Dufour]
the ache you blame on age and episodic sleep. [Stephanie Cohen]

You have plenty to work with here: birds, foes, dreams, “ache,” and the most charged word in the stanza, “glory.”

For B2, I was so taken with Christa’s lines that they formed the sandwich inside which appear lines from Millicent Caliban and Pamela Joyce S:

I spent my days in an expanse of spirit,
gave thanks to God for enemies with bad aim, [Jay Ronson]
as snow fell into the trees and blackbirds clustered
thick as leaves on the limbs, glossy shades of night. [Patricia Wallace]

When feathered darkness lifted up her hood [Christa Overbeck]
I worshipped in the temple of her trees. [Millicent Caliban]
Blackbirds scattered at the blast. The snow now [Pamela Joyce S.]
about my head, I saw that this was glory too [Christa Overbeck]

Here, the blackbirds gain more significance, and the winter landscape resonates with intimations of divinity.

Now you have no fewer than four options. Please submit either a three-line or four-line stanza—and, if you wish, a tentative working title for the poem of your choice. Surely we can do better than A1, A2, B1, and B2, though on second thought, these aren’t bad if they force the realization that there is a mathematical dimension to experimental poetry. And what we are doing certainly qualifies as an experiment.

Thanks, everyone. Please have your submissions and comments ready by Saturday, February 9, midnight anywhere.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Comments powered by Disqus