Poetry Challenge 1: Life of Books

In preparation for the AJIL’s third issue, Life of Books, let’s make Inventive Poetry about books!

Write a poem and submit it in the comment section. Write it about your favorite book characters (if they’re copyrighted, change their names and situations slightly.) Or write your poem about writing books, living among books, reading books, or any other interpretation of our theme.

The challenge opens immediately.

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I grew up running wild in the sweet clover and elephantine snows of rural Wisconsin. I have yet to enjoy that epiphany concerning the innate backwardness and moral contemptibility of such surroundings, the recitation of which, in the current cultural climate, is necessary to achieve literary standing.

8 thoughts on “Poetry Challenge 1: Life of Books”


    Once books have become
    cultural artifacts
    reflecting the primitive
    technology of the past,
    only the finest books
    will survive our age.

    So make your books well.
    Bind them tightly with
    paper that will not decay,
    ink that does not fade.
    Make sure the words you
    fill them with are the
    finest you have to offer.

    Once your flesh is dust,
    some far future being
    may crack the pages of
    such creations and your
    encore will be made.


    1. It’s neatly done, and I appreciate that an actual thought is envesseled in it. The idea itself is also worth a glance, and unobjectionable.

      I’m looking for more compact poems. I don’t prefer to publish the “fully-unpacked” style of poetry, because I consider the unraveling activity to be more appropriate to prose. A poem wants to be knitted up. A poet should be master of pitting word against word with such efficiency and power that a single massive thought impinges on the reader’s mind with each line.

      For a treatment of a similar idea, in a form I much prefer, see “To A Poet A Thousand Years Hence.”


      Thanks for participating.


  2. Have You Heard about the Writer Who Married His Chair?

    The woman who loved him
    transformed herself into a chair
    to hold his attention, to be that place
    to which he always returns.

    Enduring summer in the writer’s house,
    she supports him, even now,
    where windows are up,
    no breeze is fluttering curtains.

    He loved the woman once,
    took a week off just to hold her hand.
    But he returned to writing.
    As he sits typing, she is sighing,
    Now, we are together.

    And who among the living
    judges him for getting
    a woman with four legs,
    a cushion and a straight back?

    And her tresses were caught up in wind
    and the ends of her dresses
    always trailed in air behind her,
    in floating waves.


    1. A spun-out metaphor based on the concept of a woman “supporting” her husband in his writing career. Financially? Emotionally? Not sure. It says, “who can blame him,” but the image of the chair suggests he treats her like an object, and she enables him in idleness – which writing is not, even though it rarely gives immediate financial reward.

      Her satisfaction in the arrangement is minimal, and he doesn’t really love her any more. There’s no judgment on the case; the summation is an unstated, “it is what it is; this is human life; it’s not satisfying; it’s not worth thinking about anything better; it’s just a series of compromises; we’ve now examine one kind of compromise; here endeth the gray drizzling lesson.”

      This is all very dull and depressing. I don’t complain of the prose – for that it largely is – because you write well as far as that goes. The poem simply fails to hold up to my eyes anything worthy of my attention. As long as there is anything better to think about, I don’t see why I should spend my time contemplating such misery. One only needs to see it once to feel the requisite pity and learn the requisite fear. One doesn’t need to wallow in it, unravel it, examine it, and sing about it.

      Suddenly at the end there is this image, seemingly a memory of what the wife used to be, and that is affecting and poetic. It’s even a little musical, which is a characteristic I prize in poetry. This last stanza gives me a sense that maybe there was once a poet in you, as the chair was once a pretty girl.


  3. “Upon the brink of the morning star,
    The fire ignites the spirit, the burning hope everlasting,
    Where stars would fall and angels cry,
    In lions roars and the serpents die,
    The dragon fights upon his loyal betrayers in their treason,
    The Archangel wages war upon the heavenly host,
    Respected discipline yet with lions boast,
    He fell from the good graces, the woman clothed in the sun,
    Her stars of the twelve upon her crown, and the moon beneath her feet,
    Awaken, awaken! Sleepers who yearn for salvation!
    For the hour has come for The Lamb to renew his strength!
    The iron scepter has been passed upon this newborn child!
    The war was fierce, and the blood of many fell from the sounds of thunder slashing upon the meeting of the blades of enemies,
    The poisonous of Elohim, His venomous nature,
    Deceiver, Destroyer, Seducer of the Heavenly Children of The Lord of Hosts,
    The winds of destruction upon the four corners of the land,
    Held upon the sealing of the elect,
    Harken! Harken to the sound of heavenly trumpets!
    The Chorus of hymns and psalms everlasting are sung upon The Hour of The Lord of Hosts!
    His arrows are the lightning of the sky, and His throne burns with the fire of divinity!
    Enthroned with lapis lazuli, His might and wisdom are eternal!
    Praise, Praise, you heavenly host!
    Stand at thy posts and pray, ye warriors of The Light of Elohim!
    For the hour hath come and the War of Light and Shadow. has begun!”

    A poem that was inspired by The Book of Revelations! I hope you enjoy this piece, many thanks, and God Bless you all!


    1. I like your spirit. You plunge in with energy, knitting together picture and sound in a genuinely poetic activity. Real human feeling is here, and genuine response to a very interesting work of literature.

      This poem’s primary defect is a lack of discipline. It’s refreshing; most poems today are so far beyond disciplined they are utterly smooth-faced and featureless and empty. You can hardly strike a spark from them however hard you dash the flint of your mind at them.

      That said, this wants a bridle and a firm hand.

      Let me try to put it in a more helpful way. As a reader, the impression this poem made on my mind was confused. I think what you are trying to do is recreate, in the poem’s form, is the sense of tumult and rush and uplift that one receives from the relevant passages in Revelation. Even so, this is literature, and literature requires the author to exercise authority. You need to more carefully engage the craft of communicating the qualities of your material. It is fine to start with something like this in the moment of poetic inspiration, and then come back later to do the fine crafting of revision.

      To sum up, the poem cannot remain a mere artifact of the poet’s ecstatic spiritual experience.

      I suggest splitting the poem into three main sections, and varying the mood in each section. In the middle one, you can put the central archetypal episode of the woman giving birth in the desert, while a dragon waits to devour her child. The mood of this should be quite different from the mood of the more worshipful sections.

      There should also be movement within each section. Examples of movement are: rising to a climax; swelling and then dying away; beginning big and getting tighter.

      The key to creating movement, mood, and a strong, well-crafted impression is: selection.

      You must give careful consideration to selecting your material and the words with which you communicate it. That means honing in on the central phrase or image of each section, and finding the words and images and sounds that will help build up to it, both semantically and emotionally. You must be able to think critically about your work. If it’s hard to be that objective, you can begin by criticizing (rationally analyzing your response to) the poetry of others, and then applying the principles you discover to your own work.

      This is all very abstract but I have a feeling you can handle it. Thanks for participating. I hope you keep working on your poetry and keep coming around here. I can see publishing your work in a year or two if you make good progress.


  4. “sterling gentleman of fortune” was quite clever. 🙂

    I think this one leaves me with a feeling that nothing’s been said. Lots of references, but there’s no movement, no meaning, really. The poem is so static, especially when compared to the book.

    For a revision, I suggest thinking carefully about what you want to say. You ought to have a point to make, a story to tell. Malaise isn’t a point. “After all that adventure, I ended up doing nothing but sitting about perusing my memories…” – well, that’s not a story, either. It’s not a point. It’s just boring conversation.

    Also, in terms of preparation for submitting to the AJIL, if that’s your intent, you will want to bring in more musicality. Poems are musical speech, at the very least. They can be more; they should never be less.

    Thanks for participating.


  5. The Cabin Boy

    When frost creeps up the window-panes
    I often wonder where he is
    that sterling gentleman of fortune

    neither schooner nor coracle carries
    me to distant sands, and I haven’t seen
    anything brighter than a mallard in years

    I throw another log on the fire, turn to
    the next page of my ledger: January 17__
    thirsty for apples, whistling Lillibullero


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