Starting With the End

Chalk outline of a body
Michele Adami/Flickr

A classic prompt requires the writer to produce a last line and then write the poem leading up to it. Starting with the end seems to solve a few problems. It means you don’t have to stare at a blank page (what Mallarmé called “the empty paper defended by its whiteness”). It prevents you from overwriting your last line, as so many of us are tempted to do. It tests your ingenuity and gives direction to your imagination. Therefore:

Write a verse or prose poem ending in either of these two lines:

—No one was supposed to get hurt.


—And then he [or she] went back to work as though nothing had happened.

The first of these is a line you will have encountered if you watch crime dramas on television. The challenge here is to redeem the cliché. The other line was suggested by Franz Kafka in one of his aphorisms. He said it was “a sentence that strikes one as familiar from any number of old stories—though it might not have appeared in any of them.”

It is worth affirming that the poems you submit here belong to you—that copyright is held and retained by the authors—and that you are entitled to publish your poem or poems in magazines, journals, or a collection of your own.

Deadline: Saturday, July 20, 2019. Midnight any time zone.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

David Lehman, a contributing editor of the Scholar, is a poet, critic, and the general editor of The Best American Poetry annual anthology and author of the book One Hundred Autobiographies. He currently writes our Talking Pictures column.


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