Next Line, Please

Papa Joins Mama

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By David Lehman

February 23, 2016


 

 

Perhaps it was inevitable that what started out as a friendly competition turned in the end to a celebration of literary collaboration. No fewer than six submitted lines moved me, and when I put them together, I felt that we had a finished poem that worked nicely in two-line stanzas.

The first three lines are from Berwyn Moore:

Papa tumbles down borrowed steps, then sleeps
And Papa sheds his birthright of collards and rat tails.
And Papa swallows moonshine with a hush-hush hoot.

All three are based on Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem “The Sundays of Satin-Legs Smith” as we continue our practice of paying homage to the poets we admire.

There then follows this line, derived from Emily Dickinson, by Charise Hoge:

Then wrings, then croons, fraught by birds

Two last-day submissions struck me as forming a wonderful conclusive stanza: Patricia Smith’s “Now the darlings we smiled at are most of them dead” (from Siegfried Sassoon) followed Elizabeth Solsburg’s “O plaintive singer of the day’s last light,” based on a line in Keats’s “To Sleep.”

Now all that’s left for us to do is to come up with a title. Please submit one by noon on Sunday, February 28. The best title will be announced next Tuesday along with the ground rules for a new round of “Next Line, Please,” with a new prompt.

Here’s our poem, which has eight authors. I bet I can get it published. Of course, it is published, right here and now, but I suspect I can interest a magazine in printing or broadcasting it. First, though, we need a title. One that occurs to me is “Sonnet.” But perhaps we can do better.

 
Guns fret not at their chamber’s narrow doom. (DL)
Snug in our amber mood, we take too little care of what they do. (Angela Ball)

Here is the street where frightened children prowl (Elizabeth Solsburg)
About their buried innocence, and race (Elizabeth Solsburg)

About the rubied ledge from which our darlings jump too soon. (Paul Michelsen)
The sin rests its cheek upon the ground and furrows a cruel stamp. (C. Hoge)

When worrisome things lead them to leap in the night, (Patricia Smith)
Mama am and am, sings, “Love lived twists deepest blue.” (Angela Ball)

Papa tumbles down borrowed steps, then sleeps, (Berwyn Moore)
And Papa sheds his birthright of collards and rat tails, (Berwyn Moore)

And Papa swallows moonshine with a hush-hush hoot (Berwyn Moore)
Then wrings, then croons, fraught by birds. (Charise Hoge)

Now the darlings we smiled at are most of them dead, (Patricia Smith)
O plaintive singer of the day’s last light! (Elizabeth Solsburg)

 


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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