George Burns likes to insist that he always
        takes the straight lines; the cigar in his mouth
        is a way of leaving space between the
        lines for a laugh.  He weaves lines together
        by means of a picaresque narrative;
        not so Henny Youngman, whose lines are strict-
        ly paratactic.  My father pushed a
        line of ladies’ dresses—not down the street
        in a pushcart but upstairs in a fact’ry
        office.  My mother has been more concerned
        with her hemline.  Chairman Mao put forward
        Maoist lines, but that’s been abandoned (most-
        ly) for the East-West line of malarkey
        so popular in these parts.  The prestige
        of the iambic line has recently
        suffered decline, since it’s no longer so
        clear who “I” am, much less who you are.  When
        making a line, better be double sure
        what you’re lining in & what you’re lining
        out & which side of the line you’re on; the
        world is made up so (Adam didn’t so much
        name as delineate).  Every poem’s got
        a prosodic lining, some of which will
        unzip for summer wear.  The lines of an
        imaginary are inscribed on the
        social flesh by the knifepoint of history.
        Nowadays, you can often spot a work
        of poetry by whether it’s in lines
        or no; if it’s in prose, there’s a good chance
        it’s a poem. While there is no lesson in
        the line more useful than that of the pick-
        et line, the line that has caused the most ad-
        versity is the bloodline.  In Russia
        everyone is worried about long lines;
        back in the USA, it’s strictly soup-
        lines.  “Take a chisel to write,” but for an
        actor a line’s got to be cued.  Or, as
        they say in math, it takes two lines to make
        an angle but only one lime to make
        a Margarita.

       Charles Bernstein

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