Next Line, Please

The Secret Sharer

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By David Lehman

August 22, 2017


 

Wallace Stevens wrote that “reality is an activity of the most august imagination.” “August” in that formulation means majestic, inspiring, worthy of admiration.  But I like the idea that at this time of year, in the soon-to-be-eclipsed noontime of the month, an activity of the imagination can serve as our reality.

Thank you for your good suggestions for future prompts this week. I shall gratefully file them for possible use. What happened to prevent me from adopting one right away is that I went to the hammock with Kierkegaard’s Either/Or and came across this sentence: “Perhaps nothing ennobles a human being so much as keeping a secret.”

I pulled out my pocket notebook, wrote it down, and have been thinking about it ever since. Never mind the context, although that is fascinating, too, and I’ll later reveal it but wish for now to keep it secret.

Everyone loves secrets, in principle at least, not only out of curiosity, or the desire to be on intimate terms with the secret sharer, but also because of the paradoxical nature of secrets. As soon as a secret is known, it ceases to be a secret. In this respect they are like riddles but more so.

In using as your point of departure this great line—“Perhaps nothing ennobles a human being so much as keeping a secret”—you may make it your epigraph and go from there. Or, and I hope you will try this, write a poem in which you manage to reveal a secret and keep it at the same time.

Extra points if you work into your poem a subtle allusion to Wallace Stevens, the phrase “secret sharer,” or the word “august” in its adjectival meaning.

I can’t wait to see what this prompt generates.

Thank you all for taking part. Deadline: Saturday, August 26, 2017, midnight any time zone.

 


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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