Next Line, Please

Let’s Do It Again

A new crowd-sourced sonnet, one line at a time

By David Lehman | October 6, 2015


I’m glad to be back at the helm of “Next Line, Please.” I needed the three-month hiatus and am very grateful to Angela Ball for the excellent job she did running the competitions in my absence.

We began this column in May 2014 with the sonnet as our rite of initiation. We set out to test the notion that we could build one collaboratively, line by line; for speed and diversity, we would capitalize on the capability of advanced electronics. Over the course of 15 weeks, we composed a collective sonnet, in rhyme, entitled “Monday.” Here is the poem in its entirety:


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:
A revolution ends the inner war.

I propose that we kick off the fall season by competing for the best first line of a new crowd-sourced sonnet. There is only one requirement: The line must end with the word uniform, preferably with a comma following it. C’est tout.

Remember that the modern sonneteer enjoys freedoms unknown to Renaissance or Romantic poets. So let’s agree that our sonnet should consist of 14 lines, with the last word of each line specified by the quizmaster. We need not comply with a regular metrical scheme except perhaps to the extent that the phrase–whether in the musical or linguistic sense–tends toward a loose iambic with strategic deviations into dactyls, anapests, trochees, and spondees. Let me worry about it.

I am certain that contestants can do better than the first line that occurred to me after settling on “uniform” as our end-word: “The tree camouflaged in its green uniform,”

Deadline: Midnight Saturday, October 10. Good luck to all. It’s good to be back.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Comments powered by Disqus