Next Line, Please

“Her Winsome Style”

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By David Lehman

February 10, 2015


 

 

Something wonderful is happening with our crowd-sourced sestina. The people crafting their stanzas have formed a community, appreciative of one another’s efforts, with the effect that we are really collaborating as much as competing—which is a great victory for aesthetics and for sportsmanship in a realm (poetry) where fangs often come out.

My choice for this week’s winning stanza was not an easy one, but after hemming and hawing I went with this by Charise Hoge:

Visitors spark with lyrics of ballads, of songs,
a lamentation for the lack of redress
to tip the scale of slippery life. She jests, “Book
me a room with a courtyard and easy transport.”
A smile dawns on her lips this cup won’t pass; her spirit
a salve on tarnished will, her winsome style to balk at fear.

For the second straight week, Patricia Smith takes second prize:

Accept ambition’s wane. Summon matins, evensong.
Perhaps avoid the gown today in favor of the dress?
No need to rush, it takes a while—to write that book:
gather thoughts of other times, adventures due report,
rousing fresh ideas that will lift the spirit
up. Ah, perfect antiseptic to cleanse the port of fear.

 Of several worthy efforts by Paul Michelsen, I choose this for third place:

Funeral plans roughly mapped out, songs
to be sung at services, the final dress.
Last Will and Testament signed, re-reading the “wish” book.
Myriad ways of seeing the phrase “on life support”.
Touch head (Father), chest (Son), shoulder (Holy), shoulder (Spirit).
Heard once the Good Book says 365 times not to fear.

Honorable (and grateful) mention goes to Angela Ball and LaWanda Walters.

So this is what our sestina looks like at this point:

Finally the veins give out and they stick in a port
for the blood draws. Veins cave before the spirit.
Spirit caves before the voice stops the sing-song
of moan and groan that tolls all night like a book
of hymns without words. After a while even fear
caves, like a dress without a body or an address.

For life off-trend, beyond fashion, Mary K. wore no day dress,
only “gowns.” She larked about chemo: “Any port
in a storm.” When the doctor said, “Bad news,” fear
was a vanity she dismissed: “Anodynes will keep my spirits
lit.” She read scripture, began a memoir, a prose-poem book—
“not illness stuff”—but original woods, night-born foals, evensong.

Visitors spark with lyrics of ballads, of songs,
a lamentation for the lack of redress
to tip the scale of slippery life. She jests, “Book
me a room with a courtyard and easy transport.”
A smile dawns on her lips this cup won’t pass; her spirit
a salve on tarnished will, her winsome style to balk at fear.

In the next stanza, the end-words must appear in this order:

Fear
Song
Spirit
Dress
Port
Book

I have no doubt that by the time we finish our work, each of our dedicated participants will have contributed at least one stanza to the mix.

Deadline: midnight, Saturday, February 14.


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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