Next Line, Please

Wind and Ice


By David Lehman

March 31, 2015



The two-line poem as a form seems to have evoked a good deal of imagery-driven verse, where the effort goes into finding the natural (or simply external and “objective”) correlative to an emotional state.

First place is divided between Christine Rhein’s “Grief, Like Ice”—

Rain-pearls hang from branches,
tears that well but cannot fall

—and Howard Altmann’s “The Towering Wind”—

So full of ivy
It empties the road.

There is a tie, too, for second place. Patricia Smith’s “Alabama Mockingbirds” offers an internal rhyme—“morning” and “mocking”—that makes and mocks its own music.

Early morning chorus
all mocking birds

Ethelbert Miller, in a two-line poem inspired by Langston Hughes, expresses his feeling for his predecessor in the end-words of the lines:

Langston Hughes knew rivers
I keep learning how to swim

Honorable mention: Charise Hoge’s “Intimate Stranger”:

The smile is no secret stash of happiness.
It’s the turn of the world playing across his face.

In describing the two-line poem last week, I mentioned some modern American examples. Among great British poets, the master of the couplet—Alexander Pope (1688–1744)—has a brilliant two-line poem that sums up a rationalist century’s attempt to reconcile science and religion: “Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night / God said: ‘Let Newton be!’ and all was light.”

I’ll have a new competition for us next week.


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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