How like a prison is my cubicle
And yet how far my mind can freely roam
The many impressive second-line candidates left me undecided until the last moment when I opted for Leo Braudy’s elegant “And yet how far my mind can freely roam.” The succession of strong monosyllables broken only by the single crucial adverb won me over. Initially, I wondered at the wisdom of the turn signaled by the conjunction that begins the line; it seemed more appropriate for the pivot after line eight. On reflection, however, I thought it might be interesting to jump quickly to the paradox of freedom within constraints. It places a lot of pressure on the composers of lines three and four, which need to rhyme with “cubicle” and “roam” in any order.
My favorite runners-up include Lewis Saul’s “While the boss smokes crack with his skanky whore,” which would lead the poem in an entirely new and unanticipated direction, and Matt Brogan’s pun-filled “This pen of pens, this narrow bunk of bunk.” I liked these so much that I even toyed with the idea of bifurcating the sonnet with alternative second lines.
Honorable mention goes to Ami Majmudar’s alliterative submission: “I’m on the payroll, no prospect of parole.” The doubtlessly pseudonymous Millicent Caliban deserves a commendation for the sturdy iambic line, “I can do naught but scroll, and type, and click.” And Stacy (no last name given) came up with the fifth runner-up: “Where of my own volition I sit jailed.”
One contestant wondered about the difficulty of rhyming with “cubicle.” I fail to see the obstacle. I would also refer readers to an article in The Wall Street Journal. “When Office Cubicles Looked Like Progress” by Nikil Saval begins with the observation that “‘Cubicle’ has got to be one of the most efficient words in the English language. Nothing so swiftly conjures up a feeling of dread and drudgery.” Saval, the author of the just published Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace, observes that the word “cubicle” appears in Richard Yates’s great novel, Revolutionary Road (1961). The creator of the cubicle, a designer named Robert Propst working for the office-furniture firm Herman Miller, had thought he was solving a major problem, that of the open office, not making a new one.
Suggest the next line of the sonnet in a comment below—and feel free to dispute David Lehman’s choice of winning line.
Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.