Book spine poem: Unlocking the language

Bookmashing, for the uninitiated, is when you stack books so the titles on their spines form a poem, or a mini-story, etc. It also has the more transparent name book spine poetry. It’s a fun game – and challenge – for word lovers, and a great excuse to browse your bookshelves. You’ll see them in a new light.

I’ve made several bookmashes over the years, and would do them oftener if most of my books weren’t in storage. Usually there’s no special theme, but some have been explicitly linguistic, e.g. Evolution: the difference engine, Forest of symbols, The web of words, Ambient gestures, and Cat and Mouse Semantics. So today I imposed the restriction of only using books from the ‘language’ shelf:

[click to embiggen]

stan carey book spine poem bookmash - unlocking the language

Unlocking the language

The professor
And the madman
Defining the world,
Shady characters
Unlocking the English language –
Is that a fish
In your ear?


Thanks to the authors Simon Winchester, Henry Hitchings, Keith Houston, Robert Burchfield, and David Bellos. (I’ll try to be less gender-skewed next time.)

I got the idea originally from artist Nina Katchadourian, and it has spread to public radio and around the web. Last year a British drama group ran a bookmash competition, and now Jump! Mag (an educational magazine for children) is holding one for young readers.

Millie Slavidou, who set up the contest, has put several bookmashes on her Glossologics blog, which I wrote about last year. Seeing the idea featured in Jump! Mag prompted today’s simple effort, and I look forward to seeing any competition entries they make public. New players are always welcome.


8 Responses to Book spine poem: Unlocking the language

  1. Oh, this one made me laugh, Stan!
    I take it that the last book’s title is a reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Oh, I feel so old!

  2. I love this idea! (How have I never come across this before?) It reminds me of GooglePoetics–but more lovely. Thanks for all the links to guide explorations!

  3. Stan says:

    Thanks, Ashley, and welcome back! Yes, I presume Bellos’s title is a reference to Hitchhiker. It’s the only one of the featured books I haven’t read yet.

    Kristin: I had a similar reaction when I first saw it done. And it’s such fun to do. You’re right, it’s a little like Google Poetics; you’re working with available chunks of phrases, but it has the off-centre unpredictability of found poetry.

  4. Lyn G Jegher says:

    Thats quite funny, but i’ve been doing the same just by my couch bed!

  5. […] The Accidental Grammar, Unlocking the Language, The Name of the World, Evolution: The Difference Engine, Forest of Symbols, Ambient Gestures, and […]

  6. […] a poem about the OED in some way, but most of the books I have about the OED didn’t suit or had featured before. Caught in the Web of Words by K. M. Elisabeth Murray did suit, and the title is already poetic, so […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: