Next Line, Please

What It Was Like

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By David Lehman

April 11, 2017


 

 

For a fortnight, “Next Line Please” regulars have written (and commented on) poems that make use of Bryan Johnson’s “Beautiful Panic” as one possible title and Millicent Caliban’s “What the Soul Craves” as another. Poets were instructed to include one of the following lines: Ricky Ray’s “the way she moves, it’s beautiful,” Christa Whitsett Overbeck’s “Who is to say what counts as courage,” OR this truncation of a lovely line by Elizabeth Solsburg, “I would pay millions for one day of . . .”

What resulted was among the most satisfying of all the “Next Line, Please” scrolls to date.

Christine Rhein’s “What the Soul Craves” struck me as the best poem with that title:

It’s beautiful, the way she moves—
jab—hook—uppercut—no pause,
no ponder—that guttural “Ha!”
after “Ha!” It’s kickboxing class,
and she’s fighting hard not to think
of her day—her manager noting
how fit she is getting, how he wants
to pencil in a Friday night drink
and her yearly review. She bobs
and weaves. She pummels, the sweat
stinging her eyes, the trainer shouting
louder: Find your target! And there
it is—that face she sees before her
in the mirror—mascara running,
lipstick smeared—her fists and feet
never landing, punching, kicking air.

The silver medal goes to Courtney Thrash’s poem with Bryan Johnson’s title (“Beautiful Panic”), which includes Christa Whitsett Overbeck’s line (“Who’s to say what counts as courage”):

Symptoms or shackles, four
or more, for
diagnosis of onslaught:

palpitations, pounding heart,
perspiration, shaking, shortness
of breath, sensation
of choking, chills, chest
discomfort, abdominal distress,
dizziness, derealization,
paresthesia, fear of:
losing control,
going crazy,
dying

Who’s to say what counts as courage

Christa’s line proved particularly inspiring, and “Beautiful Panic” proved an apt title. In his “Beautiful Panic,” Michael C. Rush made beautiful and ingenious use of Ricky Ray’s line, which becomes “the why she removes / is beautiful.” Diana Ferraro also wrote a worthy poem entitled “Beautiful Panic” and containing the line “who is to say what counts as courage.”

What Byron does with Elizabeth Solsburg’s line in one poem and with Millicent Caliban’s title in another is noteworthy:

I would pay millions for one day off
or on
on some high-making substance
or off
off my rocker but on
on the make
or off the beaten track
or on
the long way home

Millicent Caliban praised the “preposition play” here, and Linda Marie Hilton responded avidly to Byron’s

What the soul craves
Whom the good Lord saves
When the pitcher curves
Why the sculptor carves
Why she wears scarves
Where the rich ones starve
Which contestants stare
Who the others are
When the man with the scar
Lets us gather at the bar

Which led Ms. Hilton to exclaim, “What the soul craves is a drink!”

The aesthetics of the fragment implies that a part of the original draft survives in a radically revised work. If that theory holds water, the last seven lines of this poem by Linda Marie Hilton strike me as a superb foundation:

solving problems from a galvanic
situation that involving
all previous roots is knowing
uniqueness of formation,
applied animal cunning:
the beauty of creation
of a novel solution.

For ingenuity and enjoyment of the spirit of collaboration, a cento from Charise Hoge stood out,

Beautiful Panic

The way she moves, it’s beautiful,
pivoting on edges.
She sets out two of her Granny’s old saucers
to settle questions that survive
like maenads pursuing, won’t let you be;
within an inch of the answer always.

To encounter one’s friends is beautiful.
Carting our chairs from one spot to another
singing the happy tune from the last circus in town,
grasping wit surely sublimates life’s tragedies.
The day the call came was sublime, seventy degrees.
The horizon no more divides the morning from the night.

Christine helpfully annotated her effort: “Title: Bryan Johnson, 1. Ricky Ray, 2. Michael C. Rush, 3. Courtney Thrash, 4. Charise Hoge, 5. Millicent Caliban, 6. Paul Michelsen, 7. Angela Ball, 8. Christine Rhein, 9. Diana Ferraro, 10. Linda Marie Hilton, 11. Elizabeth Solsburg, 12. Christa Whitsett Overbeck.”

A series of acrostic centos from Paul Michelsen celebrating “the NLP family” made this a special week in the NLP annals. Here is an example:

What the Soul Craves (Wild Flight)
for Christine

Rich compost of memory
How few stood with you
Eyes neatly hooded
I placed the rose
No, baby, no, you may not go

Sources:
“Burial Rites” by Philip Levine
“The Cup of Eliyahu” by Marge Piercy
“Suites to Fathers” by Jim Harrison
“Four Years Old: My First Funeral” by Jack Ridl
“Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall

Christine noted the extra touch: Paul had chosen “all Michigan poets.”

And here again is Paul in a jaunty mood, lifting lines from the poets Ball, Hoge, Ferraro, Solzburg, and Lehman:

Sorry, We’re Out of Cigarettes

for Angela, Charise, Diana, Elizabeth, and David

Drape me with the banner
As beauty consumes the darkness
Valentine’s card, a mourning complaint
I would pay millions in grief’s currency
Death by firing squad is the noble sublime

Elizabeth Solsburg spoke for me—as well, I suspect, as many others—when she commented that what Paul was doing, and doing so adroitly, “represents what I like so much about this group—bravo!”

Lastly, I admired—as Byron did—the brevity of this poem by Frances W:

What the Soul Craves

An interpreter, perhaps,
to translate as she beats about the senses.
The way she moves, it’s beautiful,
knowing all she knows but cannot say.

Thanks to all.


For next week, may I propose that we build short poemsmaximum of 10 linesaround an arresting simile. Let me toss out a few examples: “like a dove beating against the cruel wires of a cage”; “like a horse shaking off flies”; “like a fifty dollar bill tucked in an unread book”; “as nervous as when she opened the door and her secret lover stood there.” Or come up with one or more of your own. Let the simile do the poem’s work—or combine several into a poem that coheres despite refusing to state outright what the “it” is that the simile illuminates.

Deadline: Midnight, Saturday, April 15. Tax day, which calls to mind this simile: “Getting audited by the IRS is like having an autopsy while you’re still alive.”


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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