Two Lines a Day

Diego Torres Silvestre/Flickr
Diego Torres Silvestre/Flickr

NLP regular Donald LaBranche reports that he was inspired by listening to a tape of the Irish actress Fiona Shaw reading The Waste Land. As it happens, I saw her performance on the New York stage in November 1997 and made it the subject of my poem of the day. (At the time, I was writing a daily poem.) I promised Elizabeth Solsburg that I would share the poem, and here it is, “November 23” from The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry (Scribner, 2000):

Went to The Waste Land last night
Fiona Shaw’s one-woman show
in a derelict theater
on West 42nd Street it was
the first poem of the 20th century
in which bad sex is a metaphor
for the failure of civilization
which is searching for a place
by a placid lake where it can have
a nervous breakdown in peace and quiet
the first poem of the 20th century
to resemble a crossword puzzle
the clues in the form of fragments
phantom quotations and the image
of Eliot in a bedroom with a monastic bed
and a single unadorned light bulb
in the ceiling he was the straightest-
looking poet of the 20th century
with a superb cover, a banker’s
three-piece suit, but he was as bonkers
as the rest of us, with rats and bones
and dry rocks rattling around his brain
and a drowned sailor’s swollen eyeballs

For more on Eliot, who provided the subject of a prompt in April 2016, click here.

This gives me a bunch of ideas for a new prompt. Thinking out loud, I like the idea of writing two lines a day, starting today; recording each day your daily lines; and combining and recombining the 12 lines on Saturday, August 4. In the final product, feel free to eliminate a line, revise a line, or repeat a line to take the place of one that has been excised.

You may cheat.

If you are reading this column too late to get started on Tuesday the 31st or Wednesday the 1st, after which the benefits of the installment plan drop off, you may still enter the fray. Here’s how:

Write two-line poems—10 of them—on the theory that you may get one really good two-line poem per every 10 written.

Mix it up; include an epitaph, a riddle, a joke, a quote, a definition, and at least one rhyming couplet. For reader’s ease, make each two-line poem a separate entry.

For excellent examples of the two-line poem, read “The Two-Line Poem” here.

Deadline: Saturday, August 4, 2018, midnight any time zone.

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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