Next Line, Please

Ruby Tuesday

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By David Lehman

February 9, 2016


 

Loving the anagrammatic transformation of “buried” into “rubied,” I was torn between Patricia Smith’s “Among rubied tenements now fallen into disrepair” and Paul Michelsen’s “About the rubied ledge from which our darlings jump too soon.” Patricia’s line derived from Robert Duncan’s poem “The Temple of the Animals”; Paul modified James Tate’s line “soon your darling jumps” from “Coming Down Cleveland Avenue.”

I do admire rubies in a poem, in their natural state as nouns or in their adjectival form, perhaps because a favorite verse from the King James Version of the Bible is this one, from Proverbs (31:10):  “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.”

Following the lead of certain Iowa caucus precincts, I decided on a coin toss and Paul’s line prevailed. Besides, it’s nice to have Tate acknowledged on the very week we held a memorial tribute to the late poet at the New School in New York City.

The bronze medal goes to Angela Ball for “To disappear like chess pieces, prisoners all,” based on lines from Major Jackson’s “On Disappearing”: “It’s too bad war makes people / disappear like chess pieces, and that prisons / turn prisoners into movie endings.”

One aspect of our current enterprise that pleases me much is the attention we are drawing to worthy poets of the past and present. Just this week we have had “reefers” (Newsweek shorthand for “references” or “allusions,” circa 1983) to Tate, Duncan, and Jackson, but also James Schuyler, William Bronk, Alan Dugan, Robert Frost, H. D., and Edna St. Vincent Millay, among others. I say: bravo. Hats off to these poets and to our team of collaborators, whose ingenuity is matched by their knowledge of pleasurable if little-known poets, such as the underrated Mr. Bronk. Well, they’re all underrated, in a sense, even Frost.

Here, then, is where we are. I propose, as you’ll see, a stanza break after line two:

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)


Now, for the sake of symmetry if for no other reason, I am looking for a line that bears a similar relation to its source line as “Guns fret not at their chamber’s narrow doom” does to Wordsworth’s “Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room.” An anagram is a plus but not absolutely necessary. The winning line will be revealed on February 16, two days after Valentine’s Day and a day after the birth of composer Harold Arlen, so think of that!

Deadline: Sunday, February 14, at noon.

 


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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