August Writing Challenge 1: Bookshelf Poem

1-CC-Andrechinn-550photo by Andrechinn

We are challenging you to write your own mini anthology of poems this August! To help you, every two days poet Jon Stone will set a new challenge on the Young Poets Network site to spark off a new poem.

Challenge 1: Bookshelf Poem

Make this poem entirely out of book titles. You can use more than one in a line if you want, and add or take away punctuation to make it flow, but you can’t chop them up or miss out words! The title can be anything you want.

Jon’s example of a Bookshelf Poem:

The Climb into Thin Air

Maigret in Holland, Maigret in court,
Maigret in Montmartre, Maigret in New York,
Maigret in exile:
five little pigs doomed to die.

Banshee, seawitch,
circus, photobooth,
wide sargossa sea:
by the pricking of my thumbs, wake the dead.

Partisans, spares,
border songs, fault lines,
female chauvinist pigs:
a man lay dead in the teeth of the audience.

Send for the saint, hide my eyes,
fear the worst, beat the reaper,
meet me at the moon:
elephants remember a murder of quality.

Harvest of fear, river of death,
storm of steel, sea of poppies,
fortress of solitude:
pearls are a nuisance. Bribery, corruption also.

Gaudy night, other rooms, other voices.
Maigret hesitates.

Submitting your poem

Jon has now chosen his favourite responses to the Bookshelf challenge, but you can still use his workshop to spark a new poem and send to one of the opportunities on our Poetry Opportunities Page! Have a read of these Bookshelf poems for inspiration:

A Murder is Announced by Ruby Mason

The Difference Between Nightmares and Reality by Shannon Clemow

From rapture to reality by Nasim Asl

Untitled by Maya Little


Jon Stone

Jon Stone was born in Derby and currently lives in Whitechapel, London. He is co-creator of the multi-format arts journal Fuselit and micro-anthology publishers Sidekick Books. He won a Society of Authors Eric Gregory Award in 2012 and his collection, School of Forgery (Salt, 2012) is a Poetry Book Society Summer Recommendation. He works as a court transcript editor.

Published August, 2012

34 thoughts on “August Writing Challenge 1: Bookshelf Poem

  1. Hi! This looks like a great idea. Just two questions: if we decide to send in more than one poem, should we send them in separate emails? And what is the maximum number of poems we can submit?

    1. Hello, there is no maximum number but it’s a good idea to focus on redrafting and getting a smaller number of poems just right, rather than starting lots of poems and not polishing them into the best they can be. You can pop them into one email or separate emails. You can list several challenges in the same email if you like but do make sure you have all the challenge numbers in the subject bar and make it clear which challenges the poems refer to in your email.

  2. This challenge sounds really fun and my brain is already teeming with ideas. I just have one small question: is there any limit as to how long a poem can be to qualify for submission?

    1. Book is anything in books form: plays, poetry books, novels, guidebooks, textbooks, cook books, atlases, biographies, graphic novels, bi-lingual dictionaries…

  3. This is great! Unfortunately this means scouring for book titles at Project Gutenberg or Amazon, since almost every book I know and remember begins with ‘The’.

    By the way, he seems to love Agatha Christie. It’s fun trying to recognize each title.

    1. Hi Lisa, do you live in a town with a bookshop or a charity shop with a book section? You could use their books shelves if you need to broaden the selection.

  4. It looks really exciting! Just one question: can you choose which of the challenges you want to do, and are you able to miss some out?

    1. Hi Mimi, you can pick and choose (and you can definitely choose to only send us a selection of the best poems you produce) but we hope you’ll have ago at all the challenges if you can, after all you don’t have to share the poems if they don’t turn out as you’d hoped. The challenges are relased once every two days so you can catch up if you go away for a short period or have a lot of work on. However if, for example, you’re going backpacking for two weeks in September – sure just do the challenges you can!

  5. This is such a great idea, but one question, I know we are allowed to use punctuation, but can we add little words inbetween titles to help it flow better? e.g. and, so, etc.

    1. Hi Bob, try a version without adding words in to start off. If you look at Jon’s poem you can see that the restrictions have encouraged him to think carefully about puctuation so he can string phrases together without adding short words. Howevever your poem belongs to you, and if after you’ve completed the challenge you decided to write another verision with short words added in, then that’s great!

  6. I really like the idea of making our own anthologys but do we have to write poems on the challenge subjects or can we do our own stuff?

    1. Hi Alex, we are asking you to submit your poems only if they are responses to the challenges. We hope the challenges not only help get you writing, but will also help you to try something new and to write poems you wouldn’t otherwise have created. However there is no reason why you can’t create your own anthology poems this summer!

  7. This has got me all excited! Will you keep the challenge-updates on Facebook? As I am working long hours with limited computer access.

    1. Hi Angelique, We’ll be posting on the YPN site every two days (to give people time to catch up /keep up!) We can’t garentee they’ll be syndicated on facebook at the same time, because we can set the blog to post in advance if someone is away sick etc, but facebook we needs someone there.

  8. This sounds great! By not chopping it up, do you mean that we can’t put a line break in the middle of a title, or that we can’t put half in one place and half in another?

  9. Another question, regarding Ali’s question since she doesn’t have a reply, is this open to everyone including us outside of the UK?

  10. Definitely trying this out. Are we allowed to put punctuation within each book title or just between two seperate titles?

    1. Hi, Although swear words can sometimes be used for good effect in poetry, as we have a mixed age group on YPN it would be great if you could keep them out for poems that might be made public.

  11. Hi, I’ve submitted a poem, but I’ve realised I’ve omitted ‘the’ in a title by mistake; will i be able to resend it?

    1. Hi Nasim,
      Just resend the poem as if you were submitting it for the first time (so with all the info requested under ‘Submitting Your Poem’), but put a quick note in the body of the email explaining why you are resending it.

  12. That looks really exciting, will think on which poems to send as I have a question: do I only need to send poems in relevance to the challenge? or can it be any subject/ theme?

    1. Hi Tim, in this instance we’d like you to send in the poems you’ve written in response to these challenges. We run competitions which are open to poems on any theme, like the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award (for people aged 17 and under Meanwhile the workshops on the Young Poets Network are often aimed at making you try something different to help stretch your poetry writing skills, hence we’re asking for you to only submit poems related to the challenges.

      If you’re over 18 and want somewhere you can submit poems you’ve written at other times, then you could enter the National Poetry Competition. This is also run by the Poetry Society (same people as are running the Young Poets Network) but beacuse the National Poetry Competition is an adult only project, it is not subsidised like our YPN and Foyle Young Poets of the year Award. So the National Poetry Competition does have and entry fee which pays the judges prize money etc.

  13. Hiya, if I want to send all my responses to the challenges together, should I put all of the challenge number’s into the email or should I send them all in separately? Also, what is a YPN notebook? thanks!

    1. Hi Hanna, if you’re sending more than one together just put the range in the title, so if it’s all of them you can put 1-16. If it’s part of them you can put the rages like 1-4, 7-8, 9 etc. Good idea ot number the poems inside the email though if you’re sending a batch at once.

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