In the Stacks

In the Stacks

One rainy morning, I decided to cozy up with spine poetry, made by stacking books so their titles form a poem. Drawing from the shelves in my home, I prioritized local writers and titles that intuitively called to me as poetic lines.

Using books from area authors Amy Bloom, Maddie Dawson, Chandra Prasad and Christian Wiman, among others, here’s the first poem I stacked:

Poem 1

As you can see, crafting and reading spine poetry present some low-key challenges. You have to ignore unrelated text—subtitles are best avoided—and follow varying fonts, verb tenses, layouts and leaps of logic.

When We Argued All Night by New Havener Alice Mattison made a good start to a second, contrasting poem:

Poem 2

One of the joys of poetry, I think, is playing with enjambment—how the lines end or “break” in the middle of a sentence or phrase—to create energy or emphasize meaning. Here’s the poem with punctuation as well as combined and enjambed lines:

When we argued all night,
a separation: the hurting kind
like ravishing disunities. Half-
hazard, things fall apart. Next,
the carrying. The bonds of love
flow. Wild is the wind.

Breezing along, my third poem riffs with titles from locals Kathy Leonard Czepiel, Annie Murphy Paul, Claudia Rankine and, once more, Alice Mattison. Within the poem is a list and, near the end, a pair of voltas, or turns of thought:

Poem 3

Spine poetry is constrained by the books you have at hand, but, as poet Terrance Hayes said recently in the Paris Review, “form a way to get free.” Spine poetry offers the opportunity to play around with the worded world around you. The results may be very different from anything you’d normally write, but that’s the fun—and the freedom.

Written and photographed by Heather Jessen.

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