Next Line, Please


By David Lehman | October 13, 2015


There were so many good entries this week that it was even harder than usual to pick out a winner. I went with Michael C. Rush’s entry: “Our dreams as disparate as our days uniform,” in part because I think we can do interesting things with the antithesis set up between night and day, dreams and actuality. There is an implicit “are” between “days” and “uniform.” But I was also intrigued by the possibility of an invisible apostrophe after “days.” That is, a listener without seeing the poem might think that the word uniform in “days[’] uniform” refers to an item of apparel. It is clear that the primary meaning has to do with sameness (uniformity), but the buried metaphor has a definite appeal.

Second place goes to Charise Hoge for “A new tattoo, another tour in uniform,” for the concreteness of the image and the timely reminder that we have troops abroad.

For third place, I liked both Lauren MacArthur’s “A thread—the length of a bullet—defiled her uniform” and Karen Topham’s “Each, right hand over heart, exactly five squares apart, stood uniform.” MacArthur’s choice of verb won me over as did Topham’s brilliant internal rhyme of “heart” and “apart.”

Honorable mention to John Tranter (“Sonnets all have fourteen lines, they’re uniform”) for reminding us that there is a tradition of sonnets about the sonnet form (Wordsworth, Keats) and Patricia Smith (“Words, like soldiers waiting in uniform”), who introduces a potent simile that we could easily elaborate.

On a TV series recently, a character reporting to his boss summarizes his advice, pauses, and concludes: “I could be wrong.” The boss replies, “How many times have you said that and meant it?” It was an excellent exchange, and it made its point efficiently. But when I say “I could be wrong” in this context, I mean it. That’s just an acknowledgment of the frank subjectivity that enters into a competition—or an editorial process.

For next week, we will write line two of our crowed-sourced sonnet. The only rule is that the line must end with either “known” or “well known” followed by either a semicolon or a period.

Deadline: Sunday, October 18 at noon (any U.S. time zone). Good luck, and thank you.

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