Help Us Write a Sonnet: Line ThirteenPrint
By David Lehman
July 22, 2014
How like a prison is my cubicle,
And yet how far my mind can freely roam:
From gaol to Jerusalem, Hell to home.
Freedom ends or starts with a funeral.
Say what must die inside that I may not
Cast down this die and cross the Rubicon,
Thence to the true hell: the heat in Tucson,
Where drug lords blaze loads of coke, meth, and pot.
Freedom starts or ends with a funeral.
I once watched men with Uzis guard the Pope.
No hope, no hope, no hope, no hope, no hope.
What buzz can cheer this gloomy canticle?
Redemption is a swift revolving door
Go with your gut, we’re told, and though the Platonic ideal of our crowd-sourced sonnet would distribute the lines in an utterly democratic fashion—each line written by a different individual, half of them men and half of them women—my gut tells me to go with repeat contributor MQ for line 13: “Redemption is a swift revolving door.” The line, in perfect iambic pentameter (with accents falling on the second syllable of “Redemption,” “is,” “swift,” the second syllable of “revolving,” and “door”), elegantly answers the question posed in line 12. It is an aphorism that may be said to buzz (thanks to the alliterative music of “Redemption” and “revolving”) and to cheer (the great American dream of “Redemption”). The adjective makes its contribution to the line’s strength: the allegorical figure of “Redemption” moves swiftly, in keeping with the speed of our line-to-line transitions. And a “revolving door” is a refreshingly low-tech way of reminding us that we are still at work, in a big office building, where people come and go and quick change is the norm.
I was tempted by Katie Whitney’s “Alerts sing out of tune from my device,” loving “alerts” and knowing that “device”—so critical a word in contemporary discourse—has an honored place in the history of English rhyme. (In “Kubla Khan,” Coleridge’s “miracle of rare device, / A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice” rhymes ultimately with “Paradise.”) Whitney’s formulation is beautifully apt to our effort because it can be said that our lines, coming from so many different authors, “sing out of tune,” perhaps because we have not yet had a chance to rehearse the choir.
Aaron Fagan takes third place with “The other side is one oblivion.” The wisdom here cloaks itself in riddle: if the “other side” is “one oblivion,” in what sense is the same true of the side we’re standing on?
Some of our poets approached the closing couplet with a thirst for escape that we associate with Friday afternoons in the office. Dorothy Rangel suggested “O grog of dreams, O five o’clock, draw near!” Sally C. pleaded for “A text inviting me to happy hour.” I like the attempt to rescue “happy hour” for poetry and am also impressed by clever ways to bring our poem up to speed, as Millicent Caliban does with “Put on thy Google glass and seek to know.”
Brandon Crist proposes what might be the most purely poetical entry: “Perhaps the lure of pearl will cleave the shell.” I wonder whether readers think I erred in not picking it or any of the other lines that impressed me, including a few that pun on “bars,” a word that applies to prisons, songs, and saloons (e.g., MQ’s “When bars of song imprison what they sing”).
I thank all who submitted lines.
Note that I have taken the liberty of introducing line breaks. The poem reads best, I think, as two four-line stanzas followed by two triplets. Please feel free to disagree.
Beth Gylys’s “Will love punch in, illusory no more?” rhymes with the chosen entry and will, I hope, be re-submitted along with many other closing lines that rhyme with “door.” We couldn’t ask for a stronger word to rhyme with, whether we wish, as we exit, to roar or soar.
How like a prison is my cubicle, (DL)
And yet how far my mind can freely roam: (Leo Braudy)
From gaol to Jerusalem, Hell to home. (Brian Anderson and his 12th grade composition class)
Freedom ends or starts with a funeral. (Frank Bidart)
Say what must die inside that I may not (MQ)
Cast down this die and cross the Rubicon, (Anna E. Moss)
Thence to the true hell: the heat in Tucson (Lewis Saul)
Where drug lords blaze loads of coke, meth, and pot. (Diana)
Freedom starts or ends with a funeral.
I once watched men with Uzis guard the Pope: (James the Lesser)
No hope, no hope, no hope, no hope, no hope. (Jamie)
What buzz can cheer this gloomy canticle? (Sandra M. Gilbert)
Redemption is a swift revolving door (MQ)
Please leave your suggestion for the next line in a comment below.
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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