Updike on Couples

Two birds on a wire
Beth Jusino/Flickr

I have long felt that verse can serve as the right vehicle for a mini-essay prompted by a provocative thought in the form of an aphorism.

In John Updike’s novel Couples, the narrator states, “Every marriage tends to consist of an aristocrat and a peasant.” Leaving aside the context—the very real possibility that the sentence is meant to apply primarily to the characters in the book—consider this thought as the trigger for either (1) a short essay in verse or (2) a dialogue in verse.

You may use the Updike line as an epigraph, a first line, or anything you wish. Before writing, consider the sentence’s three main nouns and syntactical structure.

Note: In writing a verse essay, the point is not necessarily to make an argument that endorses or refutes the trigger line. Many of us are less interested in being right (or winning an argument) than in putting words together in an attractive way, one that may or may not make a point. There are other goals when writing poetry: the desire to amuse and enchant the reader, for example, or to celebrate freedom, nature, art, or the human imagination pressing back against the pressure of reality.

I may well submit a poem, if the fates allow.

Deadline: Saturday, June 29, midnight in 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.


Please enter a valid email address
That address is already in use
The security code entered was incorrect
Thanks for signing up