Next Line, Please

The Shortest Story Ever Told

By David Lehman | October 28, 2014


Two excellent titles were proposed for the sonnet ghazal we finished last week. Diana, mindful that “Monday” is the title of the crowd-sourced sonnet we did in spring and summer, nominates “Saturday,” shrewdly forecasting a series that will not be complete until five more days get named. But the prize goes to Aaron Fagan for “The Fall Inside the Fall,” which sounds like a phrase in a Frank Bidart poem. It is very apt for our effort here, in which the key word is “fall” in several senses.

Here’s our prompt for next week’s contest:

Ernest Hemingway—perhaps at Harry’s Bar, perhaps at Luchow’s—once bet a bunch of fellows he could make them cry with a short story six words long. If he won the bet each guy would have to fork over 10 bucks. Hemingway’s six-word story was, “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” He won the bet.

There has been a surge of interest in the prose poem and other “short” forms—as in Alan Ziegler’s inspired new anthology, Short. Getting into the spirit (exemplified by one wag as “prose poems, short shorts, or couldn’t finish”), contestants are asked to write the shortest story they can produce. It should be under 25 words and should contain the arc of a narrative. Brevity is obviously a virtue here (in addition to being, in general, the soul of wit), but the underlying rationale for the exercise is that tight constraints are paradoxically liberating for the imagination.

Due: midnight, Saturday, November 1.

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