What’s in a Name?Print
By David Lehman
April 24, 2018
Wordsworth’s anticipation of Mont Blanc surpassed the experience of being there, and the attractions of writing about a place before going there are evident in works by Elizabeth Bishop (“In Prison”), James Merrill (“Peru: The Landscape Game”), and John Ashbery (“The Instruction Manual”).
I have fantasies of places where I have never been (and may never visit). Were I to convert such a fantasy into a poem, I’d be capitalizing on the magic of names.
In my case, the places not yet visited include Brazil, Peru, Lisbon, Crete, Hong Kong, Adelaide, Johannesburg, Algiers, Hawaii, Sweden, and Finland. Mention of Finland reminds me of two wonderful poems by James Tate, “I Am a Finn” and “I Am Still a Finn.”
I think, too, of once-popular songs that make places seem enchanted such as “Brazil” (“where hearts are entertaining June”), “April in Paris” (“chestnuts in blossom”), “Sunday in New York” (“big city taking a nap”), “On a Little Street Singapore” (“temple bells will guide me to the shore”), “On the Road to Mandalay” (“where the old flotilla lay”).
Choose the name of a place that enchants you—that quickens images before you ever arrive there. Write about the place and what you like most about it in two stanzas of five to seven lines each. The last line of both stanzas should be identical, or nearly so. Let the name of the place serve as your title, e.g. “Belgrade” or “Cruising the Caribbean.”
Or just play Bobby Darin’s recording of “Sunday in New York” and write whatever comes to mind.
Deadline: Saturday, April 28, 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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