The American Scholar's "Next Line, Please" contest continues apace, with David Lehman crafting a new challenge each week. Lehman's "fake apology" contest of August 23 was among the most popular in the contest's years-long history. If you didn't win, so sorry! You can still enter this week's contest. Here's what Lehman had to say about fake apologies and this week's rules, which require contestants to craft a list poem in the manner of the great list songs in the American songbook:
This week we wrote non-apologies in the model of William Carlos Williams’s “This Is Just To Say,” a kind of Post-it-note poem in which the husband apologizes to the wife for eating the plums she had saved for her breakfast.
The responses persuade me that the insincere utterance provides fertile ground for poets. Our tendency to lie, distort or revise follows from the inability of the language to discriminate between truth and falsehood: Language is not self-verifying. Fiction is based on just this discrepancy between language and the duplicitous and calculating writer. Is it a discrepancy—or a struggle? Writers often describe their writing as a kind of wrestling match with language, as T. S. Eliot does in “Four Quartets.”
My favorite fake apologies are a pair submitted by Marissa D’Espain:
I saw your
at a bookstore
Oh no! I forgot
To have your baby. Now
it’s too late. Sorry!
For next week, let’s begin a list poem—on the model of the great list songs in the American songbook—e.g., “You’re the Top” (Cole Porter), “Thanks for the Memory” (music Ralph Rainger, lyrics Leo Robin), “Can’t Get Started” (music Vernon Duke, lyrics Ira Gershwin), “They All Laughed” (Gershwin and Gershwin), “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (Gershwin and Gershwin), “My Favorite Things” (Rodgers and Hammerstein), “(We’ll Have) Manhattan” (Rodgers and Hart), to mention just a few. The formula requires a stanza with a refrain.
Ready, set, go!