Next Line, Please

More Marianne Moore

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By David Lehman

October 24, 2017


 

May I begin with this wonderful statement from NLP regular Ricky Ray, who has given his kind permission:

The last couple of years have been immensely transformative for my work and my engagement in various facets of the poetry world, and NLP has played a large part in that, not the least of which was your conversion of me from a prompt avoider to an eager participant. But the friendships formed both on- and off-forum, the nuances of craft gleaned from your leadership, the development of critiquing skills, and the supportive gathering formed at the Google group—those, and more, are the facets that challenge me and bring me joy week after week, and leave me grateful for stumbling into such luck.

Thank you, Ricky—thanks from us all.

Let’s read, or reread, Marianne Moore, a major American poet, and an underrated one. (Well, nearly all poets are underrated.) Ms. Moore’s originality manifested itself in her ability to weave quotations into a poem and amalgamate them in order to make (or complicate, or digress from) an argument. Unlike T. S. Eliot, justly celebrated for his brilliant appropriation of great quotations, Moore used lines that were not famous, let alone canonical. She liked weaving together lines picked up from the most eclectic sources. A librarian by profession, she had an encyclopedic interest in life—in animals, in history, in human nature, in baseball.

Read “The Past Is the Present,” “Poetry,” “Marriage,” “Silence,” “The Student,”  “To a Snail,” “To a Steam Roller.” (All of these are in The Oxford Book of American Poetry.) Notice how obliquely she will approach a subject. Then pick a subject: like “Honor,” or “New Orleans,” or “The World Series,” or “Fashion Week,” or “Antigone,” or “The Difference Between Prose and Poetry.” Assemble an assortment of texts—the newspaper, a weekly or monthly magazine, a reference book, a biography, a novel, perhaps even a theater playbill or a letter from a friend. Write down a quotation, then another, connect them, and see where they lead. You are not limited to these titles. A snap meditation on Yasiel Puig or an ode in praise of the LBD, fishnets, or ’70s plaid do not need to be entitled “The World Series” or “Fashion Week,” though they could be.

10 to 20 lines, if you please.

Deadline: Saturday evening, October 28, 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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