Stacks on Stacks

Stacks on Stacks

After trying spine poetry at home, I set out to see what I could build elsewhere. Starting at Grey Matter Books on York Street, I realized that curating a stack of books whose titles could add up to a poem was definitely more challenging when I didn’t know the inventory—and when there was so very much of it. Feeling a bit overwhelmed among the tall shelves, I eventually decided to anchor my poem with Eliot Weinberger’s Elsewhere and Amos Oz’s Elsewhere, Perhaps:

Poem 1

There’s an extra rule to crafting spine poetry when out and about: Put the books back! After doing so, I walked the block to Book Trader Cafe, where coffeeshop aromas lofted through rooms brimming with books. Constraints are often freeing when writing poetry, so I decided to arbitrarily invent one, by confining myself to volumes from two bookcases among a surprisingly enormous science selection:

Poem 2

While I was photographing my creation, a staff person asked, “Can I help you?” When I told him about spine poetry, he said, “That’s the coolest thing I’ve heard all day!” and brought me to the astrology and thriller sections to check out poetic possibilities. I decided to leave those options for another day and, after restocking the books, made another, even shorter jaunt to Atticus Bookstore Cafe.

Here I imposed a very different constraint, limiting myself to board books for toddlers. Soon I found myself focusing on titles that speak to grownups’ obsession with sleep—their kids’ and, by extension, their own:

Poem 3

After three spine poems in three bookstores, I thought I was done—until later, when I drove by Hamden’s Books and Company and spontaneously parked. Inside, people browsed throughout and chatted in the café at back. I headed to an empty section—Young Adult—with the intention of creating a haiku. Usually consisting of three lines of five, seven and five syllables and most often focused around images from nature, “haiku emphasizes simplicity, intensity, and directness of expression,” according to the Academy of American Poets. Here’s my attempt:

Poem 4

Then, as the poem suggests, it was time to let go.

Written and photographed by Heather Jessen.

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