Next Line, Please

The Life of Words

By David Lehman | December 11, 2018
Flickr/Rosmarie Voegtli

There are “no accidents,” we learn from Freud. I originally typed “Next Line, Pleasure” at the top of this column—a typo, but a happy one because of what it discloses.

It can help the poet to think of language as a living thing that doesn’t stand still and that seems to have a mind of its own. To write poetry is not so much to play with language as to live the life of words.

Anagrams serve us well, and our own names are more magical to us than any other words could be. Combining the two opens a gateway to the Homo Ludens amusement park presided over by the spirits of such luminaries as Freud (Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious) and Baudelaire (“On the Essence of Laughter”).

For next week, then, I propose that you make as many anagrammatic words as you can out of your name. From David I get:

Diva
Avid
Id
Did
I

Lehman yields:

He
Man
Male
Name
Am
Ha
Lame
Lean
Luna
Lane
Mane
Me
An
Hale
Mean

I typed the words in the order they occurred to me, itself a fact that might prove useful.

Once you have assembled such a list, write a poem in which every line contains at least one of the words (10 to 14 lines). As a rather extreme example, here’s this stab at a self-portrait in five lines:

That David is avid comes as no surprise,
But his diva days ended in luna time
When his very name seemed to mean
A lane to the land of the id. I did it;
I am he: lean, hale. Male. He man? Ha.

There would be many more words if you work from your full name, which is always an option.

Just think: If your name were Sinatra—whose birthday is tomorrow—you’d get to work with:

Sin
Star
Rat
Tan
Artisan
Art
Satin
Rant
Rain
Trains
Stain
Saint

There’s a poem right there.

Thanks, everyone, for your poems and your exchanges about them. I am convinced that poetry becomes easier to write when you know that you have readers out there, candid but supportive. You make many good suggestions each week. Bravo.

Deadline: Saturday, December 15, midnight any time zone.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

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