Every Tuesday, poet and Best American Poetry series editor David Lehman updates “Next Line, Please,” his interactive poetry column on The American Scholar website. Each week he challenges poets – both renowned and unknown – to write a poem following a certain set of restrictions.
“Please write a poem “in the manner of” a friendly poker game, or of a gothic romance, or of a Chopin piano sonata (no. 2, for example), or of a garment of which you are fond, or of the year in which you were born. Fourteen lines or less,” reads one recent prompt.
The column began in April 2014 with a challenge to help The American Scholar produce a crowd-sourced sonnet. Lehman provided the opening line and asked readers to submit the next one. Each week he read the selections and selected the best line, and the poem grew from there. In three months, the sonnet was complete, and the sonnet’s winning contributors included published poets, professors, anonymous website visitors, and members of a twelfth-grade composition class.
Lehman’s column attracted a significant following, and now we have Next Line, Please: Prompts to Inspire Poets and Writers, a compilation of “Next Line, Please” prompts from 2014-2016.
“‘Next Line, Please’ as a project and now as a book makes a case for poetry as an art that appeals to a general readership,” Lehman writes.
“There is something magical about poetry, and though we think of the poet as working alone, working in the dark, it is all the better when a community of like-minded individuals emerges, sharing their joy in the written word.”