Next Line, Please

Old Acrostic, New Acrostic

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By David Lehman

September 9, 2014


 

“I would write on the lintels of the door post, Whim.” — Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

Write what you think; walk what you write. [Berwyn Moore]


The first line of our crowd-sourced five-line acrostic poem was required to begin with the letter “W” and to relate in some fruitful way to an epigraph chosen from the intellectual godfather of The American Scholar, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Of the 26 entries, I chose Berwyn Moore’s “Write what you think; walk what you write.” The alliteration of “w” words works in favor of the line, as does the symmetrical placement of the word “write” at both the line’s start and finish. The line is a command, and that makes it consistent with Emersonian syntax, which often favors the imperative mood. Lastly, the winning line is in iambic tetrameter—four strong beats—which sets a fine example for subsequent lines.

Second place honors go to Paul Michelsen for “Whim it says on the way in, Whim again on the way out.” The two clauses are elegantly parallel, and I like the sense of motion that the line conveys.

Brandon Crist’s “Where on the sphere might I be this year—and what, and why, and how?” takes the bronze medal. I love the internal rhyme of “sphere” and “year,” though I found myself wishing that the line had ended sooner.

For next week, we need a line beginning with the letter “A.” Contestants might consider extending the thought introduced by the initial line, or echoing its epigrammatic flavor, or introducing a rhyme, or deleting the period at the end of line one and beginning line two with “And.” It might also be smart to take a look at Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” to see if in some way he has anticipated our endeavor.

Good luck, and thanks.

 


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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