Today I start a once-a-month-series for Real Toads: “First and Last Lines.” Today it is the Sunday mini-challenge, posted a day early so you can take your time. Next month it will be on last Wednesdays. I was called into action because Ella of “Ella’s Edge” is taking a break, but I cannot pretend to replace that passionate young Toad. I’ll introduce form and ideas, hoping that Ella will stop by to raise the roof.
Today's idea grew out of my experience essay and letter-writing. Among the many reasons to write, I write to think. Often it is not until the end of a long rant that I am clear about what I want to say. The conclusion makes a better introduction, and then I can organize strategically to bring readers along. Does this sound familiar to you?
When I tried the same with a poem, I liked the result, and have ever since been carrying around a list of last lines the way other people carry around crossword puzzles!
Here’s the challenge: Look at five to ten of the latest poems you wrote and find last lines that are rich with possibility for a new beginning. If none of your last lines leap out at you, simply pick one you like and use it for today’s prompt. It will be the first line (or two) of your brand new poem—long or short—that you write this weekend.
Here’s an example. The second poem is built from the last line of the first:
A New Beginning by Susan L. Chast
Hsssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss . . .
Where was I when I began, she wondered.
She stroked tiles tightly tucked around her,
tiles tilting forward and turning.
This was not her typical maze:
It wasn’t alive and it wasn’t green and it didn’t stand
still as it should while she moved. Ths one was much like
fish scales covering a spiraling mobius strip.
I’m in the DNA, she thought, I hope it’s mine.
If it were possible to be in the DNA, why care if it’s my own?
She giggled at this second thought, and pushed forward.
She felt the wall undulating around her. Snakeskin!
She thought, it doesn’t even smell fishy! Snakeskin,
and probably discarded. Unless I am the snake, she said aloud.
And a hiss echoed around her spiked tongue.
Most Fateful Day: a ghazal by Susan L. Chast
A hiss echoed from its spiked tongue and you thought
That the snake had not lied to you in word and in thought?
Watch it slide away and take the apple along too
Neither giving it to you nor to God as we thought
Your tell-tale teeth marks are in it too, along with my own—
Seeing our DNA together, the snake will guess that YOU thought
We’d be together in Eden or in jail and no matter how much
We pay for it; happiness follows this ability to have thought.
But doubt is quite difficult and I liked it much better
When fate was determined and we need not have thought
About all of the options, the leaves of the trees, whether
To beat you or to love you. I wish I had thought
This before, dear Lady, I opened my mouth to your pleases
And caresses and most seductive scatterings of thought.
I write these rapidly, following my first thought and letting go of consideration of form until I stop. The above revision demanded a few changes in the opening line and a small amount of repetition to help the character think. Within a few changes it became a ghazal. But what if it had stayed alive as a free form or a prose poem, a short poem or a long poem? For an example of free verse last line poems, see "Execution" which is a last line poem from “Peace.”
As long as it breathes, post your new poem for us Toads to enjoy in the Garden, with a link back to its source poem. Then come on back to read and comment on other "First and Last Lines."
Enjoy! I am looking forward to reading your poetry.