Three months ago, the American Scholar initiated a contest to write a crowd-sourced sonnet. With line fourteen chosen, all that remains to complete the poem is a title. Visit the American Scholar's page to enter your candidate. Here is the completed sonnet:
How like a prison is my cubicle,
And yet how far my mind can freely roam:
From gaol to Jerusalem, Hell to home.
Freedom ends or starts with a funeral.
Say what must die inside that I may not
Cast down this die and cross the Rubicon,
Thence to the true hell: the heat in Tucson,
Where drug lords blaze loads of coke, meth, and pot.
Freedom starts or ends with a funeral.
I once watched men with Uzis guard the Pope.
No hope, no hope, no hope, no hope, no hope.
What buzz can cheer this gloomy canticle?
Redemption is a swift revolving door:
A revolution ends the inner war.
Here is what David Lehman writes about line fourteen:
You, dear contestants, saved your best for last—or next to last, as I’ll explain in a minute.
There were so many strong submissions for line 14 that I could not help wavering and flip-flopping before choosing Katie Whitney’s “A revolution ends the inner war.” The word “revolution,” too often and too loosely used in the 1960s, is le mot juste here, applying very specifically to the mechanism of the revolving door but also implying upheaval—whether a planned insurrection or one that comes about because of a host of factors, like the Great War that began 100 years ago. Thus the word in this context means itself and its opposite. It is lovely to have that paradoxical double meaning of “revolution,” to end on the “inner war” of our conflicted made-up self, and to have the word “end” itself figure in the sonnet’s final gasp.
Frank Bidart cops second-place honors with the dramatic suggestion that we end line 13 with a comma and conclude: “Like sex. You loved sex, but survival more.” Truth is not always as beautifully put.