Valentine’s Special: Construct Poetry from the Last Sentences of Books & Magazine Articles

Anyone who has ever written anything – from a third-grade book report to a nonlinear postmodern novel – knows that the hardest sentence to write is the LAST.  In fact, experts estimate that up to 34% of all writing frustration is devoted to that pesky final line.  The closing words must match the tone, tie up plot (or rhetorical) points, and make a sweeping gesture towards some kind of greater meaning.

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I bet it took the author about 1.7 hours to come up with that closer. Pretty deep!

As Valentine’s Day approaches, you may be wondering how you can impress that Special Someone with meaningful words of your own. However, there is so much lovely raw emotion concentrated in the closing sentences of books and magazines – why waste your own energy when you can just harvest the words of others?

I’ve always loved poetry, but can’t claim that I’m any good at writing it. Nevertheless, in college I took THREE poetry classes, partly because I loved poetry, and partly because I had a crush on a certain Poetry Major, whose name I already forgot. *

In honor of Valentines’, I decided to construct a collection of lightly plagiarized poems – poems constructed entirely from the final sentences of my favorite books and magazines.  The results were heartbreakingly beautiful, and that is only a slight exaggeration.

Perhaps you’re in the Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue camp, and need your Valentine’s poetry to be structured, straightforward, and syrupy sweet. This is not the poetry for you.

But if you’re ready for an adventure in verse, I’ll show you how to make your own Last Sentence Poetry, and provide examples that you can use on your very own Sweetheart.

STEP ONE – TRANSCRIBE:  Let’s start with magazines. Organize yours by title (we subscribe to National Geographic and the New Yorker).

IMG_3318Locate the last sentence in every long-form article, skipping the short stuff like restaurant and book reviews.  If you like the old-fashioned charm of a ransom note, cut out the last line with a scissors. Since I pass my New Yorkers on to my mother (who then passes them on to my aunt, and then to my cousin’s wife), I didn’t want to mangle them up.

Type out all the last lines in a word processing document in the order that you find them.

IMG_3332STEP TWO – ARRANGE: If your sweetheart prefers a Postmodern Nonlinear Narrative, leave the lines in the order you found them.  However, I recommend playing around with their order so they make some kind of sense, at least by poetry standards.  Also, I find arranging the sentences to be relaxing, like constructing a puzzle or doing the first part of my taxes.

STEP THREE – FORMAT:  Now this is where my 9 credit hours of college poetry comes in. When you’ve arranged your sentences in a pleasing narrative, increase the right margin to about four inches. Poetry should look like a shopping list of sentiment; the eyes should flow downward like a waterfall of emotion, giving your Sweetheart space to savor each line.  And don’t neglect those line breaks! Think of where you want your sweetheart’s inner voice to pause and… linger.

STEP FOUR – PRINT AND CREATE:  Now that you’ve created your poetry, you could just email it to your sweetheart, or post it on his Facebook page to draw extra attention to yourself. But since you really love him, you want to create a memento for the ages.  Print your formatted poem(s) out on colorful paper.  Note how the poems never take up more than half the width of the page.

IMG_3334Cut a poem out and glue it to a piece of colored construction paper you swiped from your kids’ art supplies.  I like pink-on-orange, cause it matches my blog.

IMG_3341To make your romantic intentions clear, fold the paper in half and glue a heart on the front of the card.

IMG_3346IMG_3349FREE DOWNLOADABLE “LAST-LINE” POETRY (MAGAZINES):

Vision isn’t in the eyes, it’s in the mind.
Can the modern world sustain beauty it hasn’t created itself?
This land is not so foreign; it’s a beautiful place to go for a drive.

If you give gravity enough time,
it will do stuff like this.

If I ever felt the skeletons did not want me there,
I would leave. This time I did.

But for now at least, in the steamy aftermath of another bountiful wet season,
the kings seem secure on their throne.

Just so we know whom to thank.
At least this bird had a chance to die free.
— (National Geographic, July 2013)


Put your passions to a more productive use.
We’re just humans running this company.
He says he’ll think twice before doing it again.
But so is the havoc.

She sat on the train, head bent, her phone in her hands as though it were
an illuminated manuscript.
It went against all good sense and a raft of statistics, but he couldn’t help it.
He was afraid of flying.
There were bystanders, and they would get the message, too.

Why try to win a game that makes you miserable?
It felt as though we were ready to begin again,
in the present tense.
It was like patience on a monument, smiling at grief.
It was determined to be driftwood.

It is both immensely joyous and immensely sad, because, like first love, it can never be repeated.
Whether you swallow her act may simply depend on your taste for tiger blood.
— (New Yorker, November 25)


You don’t know what love is.
The lesson is being learned.
“There are pictures in my head,” he said. “And they gotta come out.”
He would file a report with his superior
in the provincial capital.
“Don’t let me win,” he demanded. “Don’t you dare let me win.”

The wish for simplicity may be the most destructive thing in the world.

At some point, though I don’t know when, people will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.
There will be no empty seats.
Would it still be the Hot Tamale capital of the world?
— (New Yorker, January 6)


He leaned forward, his elbow resting on his knee and his chin resting on his knee
and his chin resting in his palm, his eyes shining as if he bore
all the sorrows of the world.

I looked at him through the railings and wondered what to do.
There’s a will, but there’s not a way. He represents a way.
If it does start to crumble, they’re the people who actually go with the hard hats and fix it.

History is the shadow cast by the dead. So long as there’s light,
the shadow will fall.
How did the music trick the body into thinking
it had a soul?

That said, I also believe in lying.
— (New Yorker, January 20)


There is a stranger by every lake.
The boat turned back before the city came into view.
“How do you feel?” he asked me. I felt tough.

A new kind of cognition, inflected by passion, that allows strangers to think out loud, solving mysteries together.
As this man has bravely and admirably done.
He has leaped between worlds, and changed them.

Not Probably. It’s definitely a good thing.

A tale of marginalization amid the forces of aggression, idolatry, and disenfranchisement.
It brings back the spirit, but doesn’t sound like any one thing.
— (New Yorker, January 27)


She did not stop swimming until her time was up.
The ocean – it turns out it’s pretty impersonal. It doesn’t care.

We’ve been doing stuff together most of our lives.
I’m sure there will be more to do.

The minister shut his mouth and followed.
The silence spoke; and the world comprehendeth it not.
One of the most dangerous things you can do
is believe.

All we can hope for, time after time,
is that somebody lives to tell the tale.
— (New Yorker, February 10)


We’re the keepers of the planet’s knowledge.
We meet their gaze and connect across
the distance of place and culture.
Amid all the laughing and pointing and waving, to have with them in their crowded quarters two small needy bodies still close enough to embrace.

Thirty-six hours later we made it to the other side, a distance of less than a mile.
If we hustle, we can get another climb in before dark.

He takes off like a shot into the woods, flinging dirt and rocks with madly scraping claws – the no-nonsense retreat of a real-life dragon.
He stands firm. He returns his face to a frown.
Long may he run.
— (National Geographic, July 2013)

BOOKS:
If you’re not the magazine sort, just pull 20 novels off your shelf, and repeat STEPS ONE thru FOUR above. Here’s what I came up with. Book credits follow the poem:

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Unedited peek of what’s on my nightstand.

She was seventy five and was going to make some changes in life.

“I will walk without noise, and I will open the door in darkness, and I will…”
But now I must sleep.
Fear made her quickly lower her eyes. The city was still there.

The old man was dreaming about the lions.
“Forever,” he said.
Taking the pigtail in one of his paws, he pressed it to his wet mustache.

His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly
through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end,
upon all the living and the dead.
Poor, frail universe, born of nothing, all we are and do resembles you?
She called in her soul to come and see.

I had no idea where to go; I kept running.
For the ones I left behind, for the ones I cannot out.

He heard the ring of steel against steel as a far door clanged shut.
We would have been safe.

And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.
If only I’d known. The beauty! The beauty!
“It’s sweet,” they chime.  “Swee-eet!”
Isn’t this a great country altogether?

I just wanted to make sure I had the last word; I think I’ve earned that.

—The Corrections; Everything is Illuminated; Atonement; Blindness; The Old Man and the Sea; Love in the time of Cholera; Confederacy of Dunces; Dubliners; Numbers in the Dark & other Stories; Their Eyes Were Watching God; Portrait of an Eye; The House on Mango Street; Native Son; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; The Shipping News; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Even Cowgirls Get the Blues; Angela’s Ashes; Gone Girl

* Don’t judge; many of the world’s greatest accomplishments were instigated to impress a cutie.

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