Book Spine Poems

A good friend of mine, Bonnie Jean Flom, knows her way around a classroom. With long years of experience not only as an artist but as a grade school teacher, principal, and educational consultant, Bonnie Jean is still discovering and sharing new ways to excite young children about language and learning.

Recently she shared with me an idea that got me excited, too, and so I want to share it with you. Bonnie Jean spent time during April in the Austin, Texas visiting her son, Scott Norman. While there, she spent a delightful day with the fifth graders he teaches. In addition to helping these young students write and publish their work for their classroom, Bonnie Jean observed students celebrating National Poetry Month by arranging books in stacks so that the titles on their spines created short poems. The students then photographed their poems before re-shelving their constituent books.

Poetry + photography? I thought this sounded like a wonderful idea!

Here are two examples that showcase the limitations of my library and imagination but also the fun I had. After a little experimenting, I decided they read most naturally from the top down. Frustrations included not having the sounds I wanted, wide variation in font size and style, realizing how many of my books have dull titles like “Complete Poems” that mask the excitement of the contents within, and (ouch!) having a slippery, heavy stack slide onto my toes. (Lessons learned: wear thick clogs and compose short poems.)

In the photos, I have endeavored to line up the germane phrases, but they still might be rather hard to read. I include the texts below.

Poem One:

Spine Poem One

Elements
Sensitive Chaos
World Poetry
Doubt

Engineers of the Soul
The Enchanted Loom
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Poem Two:

Spine Poem Two

God Be With the Clown
Write from the Heart
The Story of My Life
Fractured Fate

Can Poetry Matter?
Tirra Lirra By the River
Help, Thanks, Wow
The Opposite of Fate

Talking to the Sun
A Kiss in Space
Imaginary Gardens
The Golden Gate

So…are you itching to try it yourself? Go ahead! And let me know what you come up with!

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Summer always means Shakespeare at our house. We think of his birthday, celebrated on April 23. (Born in 1564, that would make him 449 years old today.)  And then it seems natural to seek out a production of his work or to re-read a play  or recite a few of the sonnets. This year, Julia and I hosted a “Reader’s Theater”; a total of 9 people gathered at our house to read Hamlet, scene by scene, one act per day. We paused after each scene to discuss the action, to look up unfamiliar words and concepts, to puzzle over character’s motivations, to examine recurring themes, and to recast the actors’ roles. Everyone got to share in the big parts as well as the bit parts. We also included vestigial costuming (a grey pashmina draped over the head for the ghost of King Hamlet, a red beret for Laertes who is off to France, matching Disney World lanyards for the goofy Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee that are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.)  We had lots of laughs and some new insights, too. A reader’s theater approach is a low-tech but highly interactive way to bring any dramatic work off the page.

Hamlet Reader's Theater

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In other regional Shakespeare news, check out the Great River Shakespeare Festival held in Winona, Minnesota through August (www.grsf.org).  In addition to performances and other events, the festival is holding its sixth annual sonnet contest, open to authors around the globe.
Note also that the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, which included in its first season a noted production of Hamlet, is hosting productions both of Hamlet and of Tom Stoppard’s companion black comedy, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, in the spring of 2014, as part of its 50th season. (www.guthrietheater.org)
Thank You For Hamlet Reader's Theater

11 thoughts on “Book Spine Poems

  1. Hey Beth!

    Thanks for the tip on the film. We have not yet seen it but will plan to do so. Right now, Tim and I are working our way through the film versions of Hamlet . Today we’re seeing again the 1996 Kenneth Branagh uncut text version (starring Blenheim palace as Elsinore). It is always fascinating to see how something built for the stage or the page is translated to screen. Leslie

  2. Add me to the list of fans for Book Spine Poetry! What a fun idea. I’m going to forward this on to some friends and family. On the Shakespeare front, I think this approach to Shakespeare, perhaps any play, is fabulous. So much fun and to read it aloud…wonderful!
    If you haven’t seen Joss Wheedon’s film of “Much Ado About Nothing” do. I found it very entertaining and a new way of envisioning the play.

  3. WHAT A UNIQUE IDEAS WITH CREATING A POEM OUT OF BOOK SPINES. GREAT IDEA TO GET PEOPLE INVOLVED IN POETRY.
    YOUR SHAKESPEARE CELEBRATION SOUNDS LIKE SO MUCH FUN. I WOULD HAVE ENJOYED BEING A PART OF IT TOO.
    BEST WISHES TO ALL

  4. Hi Eileen,

    I am so glad to know you like the idea. If you would like to share one of yours, I would love to see it! Leslie

  5. Book Spine Poetry! I will never pass a bookshelf again and look at it the same way. Such a great idea, only now I will be staring at my bookshelves all day. : )

  6. I love the idea of younger and older people working together to “build” a poem in three-dimensions! I hope this can help teachers in schools, librarians, and homeschooling parents to have 3-D fun with books and poetry. Thanks, again, Bonnie Jean, for telling me about this activity.

  7. Thanks for inspiring others to create “Book Spine Poetry” ~ what I find particularly exciting is the way in which the process can be successfully carried out by even very young children. In fact, standing in the library among books of a certain topic, a child who cannot yet easily read all of the words on the spine can create a lovely poem. The youngster stacks them up. . .and an older child or adult reads their poem to them. Sure to bring giggles to a young stacking poet!

  8. What an inspiring assumption to live by! The experience with HAMLET was a profound one for me. It was a true joy to discuss a play I love with others, and I found my own knowledge of it–and my questions about it–deepened.

  9. Makes you want to read the books in your own library sideways, doesn’t it?

  10. Book spine poems! Who could possibly hear about this art and not want to try it? I like your efforts there as well as the idea of readers’ theater. There is creativity wherever you look, if you’re looking. You impress me because you are aways looking!

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