Heresy and QuarrelPrint
By David Lehman
March 7, 2017
Poetry is heresy, almost always—and often enough, heresy is poetry. It is not surprising to me that, given this subject, we would get so many splendid entries.
The winning poem illustrates, in its evolution, the craft of revision and editing. Abetted by the reactions of interested readers, Christine Rhein tried her hand at “Heresy” three times. All have their virtues. The second version strikes me as best. Here it is as Christine wrote it—except that I have divided it into three-line stanzas, the characteristics of attempts #1 and #3 that I most miss:
Heresy, of course, not to buy the newest-
best technology, apps that follow
you in the car, around the house,
that know what you keep searching for
and sharing, everything you wish
you could delete. OMG—
the vanished hours, days, with no time
left for reading the fine print,
the broad news. After all, tweets
are now the rage. Danger! Danger!
And, yes—So Sad!—the double-talking.
Don’t even think about a walk in the park.
I would have gone with version #3 as the synthesis following thesis and antithesis—except for the phrase “dumbed down and literal doublethink,” where the alliteration is not enough of a plus to counteract the double cliché and the use of “literal,” which (forgive me) is on my private verboten list.
Kudos to Christine and all who egged her on enthusiastically.
Runner-up: Diana Ferraro, who writes,
Whether poet or muse
Is it a heresy to decline,
to shy away and refuse
when difficulty looms,
when every possible verse
seems doomed, unfit,
unable to cut within
the drape of talent
shining on the line?
Where lies the excuse
for a claimed cowardice
when Heart never yields,
and Mind simply fails,
ashamed by Soul?
Not in the untamed words
or the wild grammar
of an alien language
on the deep woods
of the brain.
The bronze medal is claimed by Charise Hoge:
Be it pluck or luck, of Irish
descent a Catholic sits,
not on ceremony,
but knee to knee
at a Hindu temple—hive that thrums,
saris that sway to the call, the drum.
Old woman in saffron stands to dance,
wide the drummer’s smile, jubilate in chants.
Every body is a celebrant. Name heresy
for what it is, a lonely frock of hearsay.
According to Yeats, rhetoric is what we make of the quarrels we have with others. Poetry is what we make of the quarrels we have with ourselves. Unlike economists, whose reflex phrase is “on the other hand,” some poets play with their right hand only. Show that you’re not one of them. For next week, write a poem in which you argue with yourself about something too important to be treated in a dozen lines, even though that is all you will have. If you like, you may use as your title “Winner Take All” or “Winner Take Nothing,” or use as our starting a point a quotation from Hemingway, Henry James, or Willa Cather as your epigraph. These are optional, but if you’re like me, you tend to feel that the more rules, the better.
Thank you everyone.
Deadline: Saturday, March 11, midnight any time zone
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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