Next Line, Please

Greater Than the Sum of Lust and Duty

By David Lehman | January 3, 2017


Your holiday assignment was to write stanza two of a sonnet, a six-line stanza rhyming a-b-b-a-c-c. This is the stanza pattern W. H. Auden used masterfully in “Under Which Lyre.” You wrote so many fine stanzas that it wasn’t difficult to find one for each of the three stanzas singled out last time.

The opening stanzas were written by Angela Sorby (“You weren’t serious when you said / Brekekexkex koax koax—“), Michael C. Rush (“You weren’t serious when you said / you were serial”) and Charise Hoge (“You weren’t serious when you said / leave the Garden, were you?”). I also made the suggestion that the first line of the stanza, line seven of the sonnet, be either Courtney Thrash’s “Love is greater than the sum of lust and duty” or Michael C. Rush’s “When you said you were real.”

There are three winners: Angela Ball for extending Michael Rush’s stanza, Paul Michelsen for adding to Angela Sorby’s first stanza, and Angela Sorby for the stanza to follow Christine Hoge’s opening.

Here are the winning entries:

# 1

You weren’t serious when you said
you were serial.
When you said you were real.
One thing after another. You misled
me, promising nothing but gradual change.
But you’re static, stochastic, and strange.


When you said you were real
I consulted both Bishop Berkeley
and Dr. Johnson—who agreed
you’re genuine manmade material—
non-auriferous, impervious, unosculatable,
succubatious, contagious, inflammable.


—Michael C. Rush and Angela Ball

# 2

You weren’t serious when you said
Brekekexkex koax koax—
You are not Toad, but Man. The facts
will out. The spalt-hops on your head
are faux, yet you pollute the pond
with croaks. Echt-frogs sing fairer songs.


Love is greater than the sum of duty and lust
Or at least it used to be when you were real,
Yes, it used to be, back when you could feel,
Not like a frog in the eyes of Dionysus
Looked upon with love not just as an object of sex,
Our pillow talk so much more than Brekekexkex.


—Angela Sorby, Courtney Thrash, Paul Michelsen


# 3

You weren’t serious when you said
leave the Garden, were you?
Let’s talk of second chances, of do-
overs, of our faltering, inbred
clumsiness. Let’s say no one’s fallen, rotten.
Apple of your eye, incognito; we’ve forgotten:


Love’s more vertebrate than lust or duty.
Let’s talk of golden-fingered pangolins,
and foxes borne aloft by flaps of skin,
and cranes ascending over the sooty
ancient Heavenly City in Beijing.
Let’s say love’s not a wholly human thing.


—Charise Hoge, Angela Sorby



Rather than dwell on the virtues of these and other entries, let me note with some satisfaction that it is now official: Cornell University Press will publish Next Line, Please in 2018. My working subtitle is Prompts to Inspire Poets and Writers.


As we head into the backstretch, we need three memorable couplets to conclude our three sonnets-in-progress. There are more ways than one to achieve closure with a closing couplet. You can pose a question (as in Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan”), or present a question and answer (Frost’s “Design”), make a declaration (Shakespeare’s sonnet 18), share a glimpse of the sublime (Keats’s “When I Have Fears”), or proffer a piece of epigrammatic whimsy on the lines of Wallace Stevens’s “Let be be finale of seem. / The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.

Naturally you are encouraged to write three couplets. Please post each couplet separately and indicate which of the three works-in-progress—designated for the moment as #1, #2, and #3—your couplet concludes. Suggestions for titles are also welcome.

Deadline: Sunday, January 8, 2017, midnight any time zone. Good luck.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

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