Next Line, Please

We Want a Hero


By David Lehman

May 15, 2018


This evening I will be reading from Next Line, Please: Prompts to Inspire Poets and Writers at Book Culture at 82nd Street and Columbus Avenue in New York City. It will give me pleasure to revisit old prompts and recite the poems that resulted.

The prompt I propose for next week is one that I’ve never used before. Take the first clause in Byron’s Don Juan—“I want a hero”—and run with it. Variations (“I need a heroine”) are fine. Extra credit if you write in Byron’s form: an ottava rima stanza—eight lines long, rhyming a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c. Because of the scarcity of rhymes in English, and the need for a triple rhyme, the rhyme scheme in English is perfect for comic verse, and Don Juan is the greatest comic poem in the language.

You could also do worse than write a brief poem about Lord Byron beginning with his line, “I want a hero.” Twelve lines or less, and as a model consider W. H. Auden’s poem that begins, “A shilling life will give you all the facts.”

If the project necessitates a trip to the library, to reread Byron or to research his  legendary life, so much the better.



Deadline: Saturday, May 19, 2018, midnight any time zone.

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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