Time to Tee Up

Flickr/Tord Sollie
Flickr/Tord Sollie

It’s time for another round of word golf, which we last played on February 21, 2017, with excellent results. (See here and here.)

If the best prompts resemble puzzles that test our verbal virtuosity, it’s hard to do better than using a pattern of end-words as a substitute for a rhyme scheme to create a journey from one object or state of being to its opposite. The structure is simple: to move from one four-letter word to its opposite, changing one letter at a time. It was, I believe, Nabokov who coined the phrase “word golf” to describe this procedure.

For example, I wrote this couplet sonnet that moves from lead to gold one letter at a time. This is part 18 of the sequence of 30 sonnets entitled “Mythologies” in my New and Selected Poems:

“Wherever you follow,” he said, “I will lead.”
Where summer met fall, she picked up a brittle orange leaf.

He wanted to lie on the grass, to lean and loaf
At his ease, but the crisis intervened: news of her unpaid loan

Prompted him to put his sandals on his head, as in the Zen koan.
Slowly he walked away. Silence followed, then the sound of a moan

In the room next door. So orange it seemed a painted moon
Shone against the indigo sky. And quickly her mood

Went from unreasonable euphoria to realistic dejection, as the wood
In the fireplace turned to ash without first yielding a flame. The wool

Of their sweaters had begun to unravel. “If the fool
Persists in his folly,” someone said, “he will have food

Enough to eat, loaves and fishes galore. Worship the good,
Which is beautiful though untrue. Turn your back on gold.”

I suggest fake and real as our coordinates. Fake ends the first line, real ends the last line, and you move forward one letter at a time. It can be done in 11 lines—or you can stretch it out to 14.

Have fun with it. And don’t worry about making sense or conveying a coherent message. Concentrate on solving the puzzle, and the poem will get written with a minimum of interference from your literary superego.

Although “fake” is in currency at the moment, please remember that this space is resolutely free of politics, because politics tends to debase language and discourse and there’s no shortage of other places to get a political fix, if you really need one.

Deadline: Saturday, December 1, midnight any time zone—on which day, by the way, a poem by your quizmaster will be featured on Poetry Daily.

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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