Next Line, Please

What I Wanted To Be When I Grew Up

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By David Lehman

January 10, 2017


 

We did it, ladies and gentlemen: crafted three sonnets, all of which need titles—unless the generic “Sonnet” will do.

Stephanie Hanzel provided the couplet to end sonnet 1; Millicent Caliban completed sonnet 2; and Berwyn Moore takes the honors for sonnet 3. The first and third sonnets are inverted, i.e. in both cases, the eight-line stanza follows the six-line stanza. Sonnet 2 breaks naturally into two six-line stanzas followed by a closing couplet. Here are the winning entries:

#1

You weren’t serious when you said you were serial.
When you said you were real.
One thing after another.
You misled me, promising nothing but gradual change.
But you’re static, stochastic, and strange.

When you said you were real
I consulted both Bishop Berkeley
and Dr. Johnson—who agreed
you’re genuine manmade material—
non-auriferous, impervious,
contagious, inflammable,

with your bag of dust dumped perceptibly
in a cordate trash heap of serious hyperbole

—Michael C. Rush, Angela Ball, and Stephanie Hanzel

# 2

You weren’t serious when you said
Brekekexkex koax koax—
You are not Toad, but Man. The facts
will out. The spalt-hops on your head
are faux, yet you pollute the pond
with croaks.
Echt-frogs sing fairer songs.

Love is greater than the sum of duty and lust
Or at least it used to be when you were real,
Yes, it used to be, back when you could feel,

Not like a frog in the eyes of Dionysus
Looked upon with love not just as an object of sex,
Our pillow talk so much more than Brekekexkex.

To break the spell, this seeming frog I’ll kiss.
As disenchanted prince, might you restore our bliss?

—Angela Sorby, Cortney Thrash, Paul Michelsen, Millicent Caliban<

# 3

You weren’t serious when you said
leave the Garden, were you?
Let’s talk of second chances, of do-
overs, of our faltering, inbred
clumsiness. Let’s say no one’s fallen, rotten.
Apple of your eye, incognito; we’ve forgotten:

Love’s more vertebrate than lust or duty.
Let’s talk of golden-fingered pangolins
and foxes borne aloft by flaps of skin,
and cranes ascending over the sooty
ancient Heavenly City in Beijing.
Let’s say love’s not a wholly human thing,

it lunges and growls and lugs you to bed,
how it wakes you up, demanding to be fed.

—Charise Hoge, Angela Sorby, Berwyn Moore

Kudos to all. If titles occur to you, please share. Other entries that impressed me were superior to my own attempts, such as this stand-alone couplet for #3: “Say yes, say go, refute the evening wind. / Let’s get lost to find ourselves in sin.”


For next week, I have long wanted to create a prompt that goes viral in the limited way that a poetic prompt can do. I have in mind the example of James Schuyler’s poem “Things to Do,” which launched a barrage of “things to do” poems in the late 1960s and early 1970s in New York. (Ted Berrigan loved the form, based as it is on the humble means we use to organize our day by making a list.) What I have come up can be, like “Things To Do,” a variety of list poem. The title says it all, I think: “What I Wanted To Be When I Grew Up.” Notice the verbs: two in the past tense and one infinitive. It is this combination, I think, that lends the project a certain amount of pathos.

Using this title, write a poem of fourteen lines or less. The poem I wrote last week listed in chronological order some of the occupations and professions I imagined for myself. You may follow suit or you may eschew the attractions of a list and concentrate instead on the elaboration of one childhood fantasy.

Good luck. Deadline: Midnight on Sunday, January 15, 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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