Next Line, Please

Honor Role

By David Lehman | February 27, 2018
Cornell University Press
Cornell University Press

Well, here it is. The first copies of Next Line, Please: Prompts to Inspire Poets and Writers are circulating, thanks to Cornell University Press, which has done a marvelous job designing and publishing the book.  It’s a beautiful book, and if you’re in it, be sure to get your copy and spread the good word.

Veteran authors know there are almost always some typographical  errors in any book, no matter how much time the author and the editor have spent on the galleys. So it has happened here. Somehow the “honor roll” at the end of the book listing all the “winners” of our weekly challenges got presented as “honor role.” I had the chance to read galleys and should have caught this mistake but missed it.

No point feeling bad about it. We can correct it for future printings, of which we can hope there will be many, and meanwhile let us glory in the surplus meaning attached to such an error. It was Freud who made us realize the semantic value of a mistake, and I have often thought that the seed of a poem may inhere in a typo or a mistake in hearing. To a poet, how much more compelling is “a whole in one” than a “hole in one”? Or consider the possibilities of “track meat,” “lunch meet,” “over hall”? How about “golden role”? Or “day traitor”?

Under the circumstances, I can’t think of a better prompt than “Honor Role” as a title. Think about the meaning of the two words separately, and the way they might merge to form a new identity.

For the sake of these tired eyes—and because of my conviction that brevity is a virtue in verse as in prose—please make an effort to fulfill the prompt in 14 lines or less, separated in two stanzas perhaps, with a lonely rhyme or two.

Deadline:  Saturday, March 3, 2018, midnight any time zone.

Cornell University Press wants to give a complimentary copy of Next Line, Please: Prompts to Inspire Poets and Writers—forthcoming in March—to any NLP participants whose work was featured between the launch of the column in May 2014 and November 2016, the period covered in the book. To request your copy, please write to

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

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