Next Line, Please

From a Likeness to a Delicacy

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By David Lehman

April 18, 2017


 

 

Meeting a deadline when recovering from the flu,
While not always an easy thing to do,
Is a task made joyous when the lines
You read and write about resemble the tines
Of a magical tuning fork that turns out similes
And tones of insight, mirth and ease.

So … I am particularly grateful to Angela Ball for “Mimosa Trees”:

Persians, restive night
sleepers, they arrived
incognito, like tamales
to north Mississippi, accordions
to Texas: courtesan
ostrich fans, indolent plumes
shocking us
with pink.

A close runner-up is Christine Rhein, who revealed that the conjunction of “cage” and “secret” prompted the first line of her fine poem:

Like a secret in the middle of a birdcage.
Like a birdcage in the middle of a rowboat,
a rowboat in the middle of the rapids, the rapids
in the middle of your life. Like your life in the middle
of a movie, a movie in the middle of a card game,
a card game in the middle of a circus. Like a circus
in the middle of your heart, your heart in the middle
of a dream, a dream in the middle of everything.
Like everything in the middle. Like the middle.
Like a secret.

Bryan Johnson takes the bronze for “Gorgianic Figure”:

Should I become the face of a coin
Like Plutarch? Or a fleet of burning hair like Darius?

Outside the summer fort, soothsaying a neoclassical trace
Something hardens, like the moon.
Mad in its station Kentucky has been unveiled

The cups and the bees are on the outs, someone wants them
To be more than something
Divine, like a winged chariot on the beachhead

The object of Kentucky is so unlike
That little raft, intact, ambient with asters.

I love the last line of Millicent Caliban’s poem:

Summoning the stillness to feel the flutter within,
Nourishing unaware the evolving being,
Trusting it will emerge when ripeness is all,
Seeing a new creature bear witness to its sources,
Celebrating the creation: beauty entwined with truth,
The universe has shuddered, its elements transposed.
That is what the act (at its best) is like.

And I wonder, dear Millicent, whether you have thought of a title. “Ripeness is all,” your quote from King Lear, is one possibility. But maybe “The Act” is even better. It is the most surprising word in the poem.

How can I fail to appreciate Ricky Ray’s well-titled “Little Candle Offered to the Morning”:

there was a man named David Lehman
who was a prompt conducting shaman
he liked the likes and thans and words
that didn’t sing it straight like birds
he asked for poems short in the thigh
I think he liked the sky in his eye
a family grew around his feet
more often than not his judgment was neat
as bourbon in a wine glass cracked
I went there often, I’ll go back.

There were many other worthy quotable poems that were inspired by similes. And sometimes the comments that the writers exchanged about their efforts quickened our creative juices. Such a moment occurred when, for example, Diane Ferraro wrote “What is the simile of smile?” and Michael C. Rush responded: “What is the simile for smile?/ It’s similar, surely, to smirk, if smaller.”

There was even a case where a poem inspired not only astute observations but whole poems in response.  Charise Hoge’s “These Times” goes like this:

Driven by fake news
like lemmings to the sea
—simile concocted by Disney,
myth slipped into the vernacular
—the false dies to survive as belief.

Linda Marie Hilton observed: “the false dies means it becomes ‘truth’ and therefore a belief, but the false dives has an entirely different meaning.” This and a subsequent comment inspired Paul Michelsen to write “Diving to Survive”

Like a journeyman taking a dive
To survive in the sweet science he loves
What keeps him alive is a loss and a lie
Is it even a life at all?

Like the end of every cliffhanger
We hope the hero will do the impossible
Though imminent death is implied
No way to survive the fall

Have you heard the one about the ones who jump

Our Byron, admiring the last two sentences of a characteristically subtle comment made by Paul Michelsen, suggested that they could stand alone as a five-line poem, and I’m inclined to agree:

It’s almost mesmerizing and you start to look at it or hear it differently, like the drink that hits you that certain way that reminds you that you’re drinking something potent. But maybe a “middle” or two fewer could hit the spot even better, since we don’t need to drink to get drunk.

My thanks to all.


For next week, I have a quotation in mind from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Given the likely truth of this statement, write about a favorite dish, savory or sweet, or a beverage, or a feast, or even a café or restaurant. The only formal limitations: write no more than 10 lines and use the fewest possible words.

Deadline: Midnight, Saturday, April 22, 2017


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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