Next Line, Please

Poems and Secret Messages

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By David Lehman

June 9, 2015


 

 

In addition to their stated messages, some poems have secret messages embedded in them—sometimes reinforcing the point, sometimes at cross purposes with it.

Perhaps the most common way of concealing a message, whether subversive or not, is by use of an acrostic. And the most common acrostic involves the opening letters of the lines, which can spell out “I love you” or the poet’s name or the name of the beloved or some command or other (“let’s do it”).

The way to do it is to start with the phrase and type it out vertically, then fill out the lines. Thus, and strictly from the top of my head, spur of the moment:

Look out.” But the admonition comes too late.
Every day brings danger, usually unforeseen.
There is only one remedy for this life of accidents.
So what are we to do? The enemy lines up.

Dread disease, car crash, gunshot wound, take your pick:
Our fate is sealed. It’s just a matter of when.

I believe the evidence is incontrovertible.
The secret is out. Meet me at seven. You know where.

Try it. No need to boldface the opening letters. It is also possible to be even trickier—to use the last letters of the lines, for example. But let’s keep the poem to 12 lines or under, OK?

Note: This week’s short deadline is midnight, Friday, June 12.


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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