Book Spine Poetry


Well, winter is over for sure. It’s definitely spring! Among other things, that means that I have piles and piles, stacks and stacks of books! They’re all over the place–on most every surface. I’m a reader. I buy them–on line and in book stores; I reread from things I keep on my shelves; I read for pleasure, for relaxation, for information, and probably out of habit: I just love to read.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of Nina Katchadourian. She’s an artist of an unusual stripe. And, I don’t know where or when, but she’s who introduced me to the concept of BOOK SPINE POETRY. So every time I get ready to actually make sense of my bookshelves that have been piled high, sort of in the order I’ve read them (no I don’t always read every single one from beginning to end when I take it from the shelf–some I do, some I eventually do, some I never so, and some just were never meant to be read that way in the first place).

BOOK SPINE POETRY, is simple. Interesting, too, because it reminds me what I’ve been thinking over the past months. These books are all on a chest close to where I read the most: in bed.


Sometimes the spines read like poetry all by themselves–sort of like the refrigerator magnets where one can simply juxtaposition words. This pile, not so much.

I’ll make it a poem:

From a bad beginning
the reptile room could be seen
through the wide window,
where people in the trees frowned
at the antics of Tomcat Murr.
His life and opinions were like stories
out of Anton Chekhov.
The evolution of his art seems
like complete plays on his words
when told by the kindness of strangers.
Taken altogether: a biography complete!

Ooooo. What was I doing with these books. Well the top 3 are all Lemony Snicket books–I was looking at them for form, primarily: how they were put together. And I also re-read the first book, and dipped into the other two. I remembered that the form was interesting and wanted to take another look. One thing I’d forgotten was that the Snicket series includes definitions of words as part of the story.

The People in the Trees I keep picking up and putting down. It’s interesting, but not as interesting as other things.

Tomcat Murr came off my shelf when a friend asked me if I knew about it. It’s another book that is worth a look ever so often to remember its form. As a writer, form is always important. (Another book I re-read for form this winter is Olive Kitteridge. It made it to a stack in another room.)

Tennessee Williams is one of a group of genius writers, often expatriate, coming out of WWII. They’re all worth reading. It’s said by many that TW was the best of them. There’s much of his work I haven’t read: I’m catching up. My favorite of the group is Capote, actually: Capote writing before he wrote In Cold Blood.

Then there are the three Chekhov books–one about him as an evolving writer/artist, his plays (I’ve read more of his stories than plays and wanted to do something about that), and a good biography (most important if you want to understand a writer).

My reading life has come to have its own celebration of sort. It’s a fun ritual as I take down my stacks to make a library sort of sense of them again; shelve them in sensible categories.

Just for fun, I’m including the rest of my stacks from this chest. It was a long winter.

My love of children’s’ literature and fantasy is apparent. Some books that are notably missing, probably the ones I spent the most time reading are McCullough’s Masters of Rome series. Why not on the chest? Well, they’re actually ON THE BED. I’m re-reading them for the umpteenth time. This morning I asked myself why I kept re-reading those books, and I was able to answer myself once I decided to put it down on paper: it’s complicated, but there are reasons.

M L S Baisch



Tennessee Williams — leaves you in a place you’ve never been before.

Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams

If you have never read Night of the Iguana, or seen the play, you might consider it. There is a poem near the end, called Nonno’s poem that is quite beautiful. And existentially profound. It sneaks up on you, the end of this play–and this poem–and you wonder how this improbable piece of fiction turns on its heels and grabs you by the throat. How did these strange, impossible fictional characters pull it off.

Nonno’s poem wraps itself around the enormity of what it means to live. Most of us, I imagine, think more about the vicissitudes of everyday life than existential realities. Everyday life is scary enough, frightening; but existential realities terrify.

Knowing full well that very few people who haven’t already read Tennessee William’s Night of the Iguana will ever read it, here is Nonno’s poem. It’s worth knowing that someone wrote this.
How calmly does the orange branch observe
Without a cry, without a prayer,
With no betrayal of despair.
Sometime while night obscures the tree
The Zenith of its life will be
Gone past forever, and from thence
A second history will commence.
A chronicle no longer old,
A bargaining with mist and mold,
And finally the broken stem
The plummeting to earth; and then
An intercourse not well designed
For beings of a golden kind
Whose native green must arch above
The earth’s obscene, corrupting love.
And still the ripe fruit and the branch
Observe the sky begin to blanch
Without a cry, without a prayer,
With no betrayal of despair.
O Courage could you not as well
Select a second place to dwell,
Not only in that golden tree
But in the frightened heart of me?
– Tennessee Williams
1961, Broadway Premier
M L S Baisch