Next Line, Please

Looking Ahead

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By David Lehman

December 29, 2015


 

Line 12 of our sonnet must end with “too” and we had no shortage of variant uses of that word. I was charmed by many but decided on these five finalists. In each case I include the previous line and retain the stanza break so you can see the immediate context (which is changed subtly in Robert Schultz’s entry):

Brandon Crist

The rules of engagement. The conflicts of lust. Just
Look at the way they look at us. As though we’re too

Charise Hoge

The rules of engagement. The conflicts of lust. Just
Pack your stuff; for me, infamy, maybe discharge too

Michael C. Rush

The rules of engagement. The conflicts of lust. Just
Pour the drink! The way in is the way out, too.

Robert Schultz

The rules of engagement. The conflicts of lust. “Just
Wait for the next wave,” we tell ourselves, too

Elizabeth Solsburg

The rules of engagement. The conflicts of lust. Just
Step into the ring and circle each other until we are too

Let’s take a closer look at this five-fingered exercise. Though each line is an imperative, you couldn’t ask for more variety among the commanding verbs—look, pack, pour, step, and wait. It is almost as though we had found ourselves in a game—with each verb standing for a major life-changing decision. Robert Schultz transports us to the sea, Elizabeth Solzburg to the wrestling ring. Michael Rush proposes a sideways toast to Heraclitus (who said that the way up and the way down are the same). Charise Hoge packs a lot into her line: departure, infamy, discharge. Brandon Crist’s line is modestly anticipatory—it is one designed to serve to set up our closing couplet, and I went for it in the end.

This is where we are:

Our dreams as disparate as our days uniform, Michael C. Rush
We crave a lovely scandal with someone well-known; Angela Ball
Midnight champagne, penthouse lit by thunderstorm, Christine Rhein
In this version of darkness, we are never alone. Elizabeth Solsburg

If marriage is a cage, we can force the lock, but we Christine Rhein
Clutches the key, a jailer too stubborn to learn Patricia Smith
To read the graffiti. If need be, he can turn  Paul Michelsen
A bouquet to a wreath. Then we will be Poem Today

Two mourners arguing terms of interment. We must       Angela Ball
Appease our lust, our momentary bliss subject to               Berwyn Moore
The rules of engagement. The conflicts of lust. Just          Joe Lawlor

Look at the way they look at us. As though we’re too          Brandon Crist

 


Line 13, our penultimate line, must end in “if he can” (or “if she can”).

Thank you, everyone, for sticking with this process or for joining us belatedly. It is quite a collaborative exercise to construct a sonnet in 15 weeks. What we create is bound to be worthy of study. Good luck to all! And happy new year.

Deadline: Noon on Sunday, January 3, 2016.


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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