Next Line, Please

The Winning Couplet Grows (into a Sonnet Ghazal)

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By David Lehman

October 21, 2014


 

Bruce Bond provides the winning couplet (which needed to have “fall” as a rhyme word and to mention an autumnal color):

The better the book, the longer the farewell,

the leaves in amber as their shadows fall.

Here “leaves” retains its primary sense but doubles as “pages,” and the slant rhyme of “farewell” and “fall” contains the letters of “fall” twice, in correct order both times. We need three red ribbons. One is for Diana’s elegant

My austral spring belies your boreal fall;

you burn brown leaves and dismiss my call

The couplet uses creative adjectives to great advantage, “austral” implying the warmth of the southern hemisphere, “boreal” suggesting the onset of a long winter. Two capricious couplets of unusual wit and charm share second-place honors. John Tranter’s makes a reference to John Ashbery’s “Popeye” sestina:

Popeye chuckled and scratched his balls: on the wall

he scrawled, “Explore the mall in the reddening fall.”

This is matched by Terence Winch in his mix of classic films and a crucial event in the history of Christianity:

On the yellow brick road to Damascus St. Paul took a fall

as did Bogart in To Have and Have Not upon meeting Bacall.

At least three other submissions merit honorable mention. Katie Naoum’s “With a red gold fire raining down, we fall / in love. The lonely branches sprawling tall”; Leonard Kress’s “We lug the red-leaf-laden tarp like pall- / Bearers to curbs for trucks to haul away our fall”; and Lawrence Epstein’s “Of all sad leaves that curl and fall, / The red are those I must recall.” So I had a brainstorm. If we combine these seven into one entity, we will have created a sonnet—and because each couplet repeats a word, the poem may qualify as a “sonnet ghazal,” to use the term coined by the poet Mariam Zafar. This is how I imagine it:

The better the book, the longer the farewell,

the leaves in amber as their shadows fall.

With a red gold fire raining down, we fall

in love. The lonely branches sprawling tall,

We lug the red-leaf-laden tarp like pall-

bearers to curbs for trucks to haul away our fall.

Of all sad leaves that curl and fall,

the red are those I must recall.

My austral spring belies your boreal fall;

you burn brown leaves and dismiss my call.

On the yellow brick road to Damascus St. Paul took a fall,

as did Bogart in To Have and Have Not upon meeting Bacall.

Popeye chuckled and scratched his balls: on the wall

he scrawled, “Explore the mall in the reddening fall.”

 

That gives us a fall glow of amber, yellow, gold, brown, and four shades of red.

If people think this is a good idea, please feel free to propose a title. In the absence of something more specific to these lines, I would opt for the generic “Sonnet Ghazal.” In any case, tune in next Tuesday for the rules governing our next venture in crowd-sourced poetry.


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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