Author Archives: 5ptsjournal

Mat Play: On Writing and Yoga by Kathleen Kraft

Photo of author

Photo of the author

I sometimes find writing about the asanas (poses or postures) perplexing because there’s an ineffable quality in the practice, one that feels pre-linguistic. The feeling takes me back to being on a swing when I was young, rising higher and higher. A freedom balanced by the tension of holding the rope, determining the speed and height of the ascent and descent with your leg power, and the gradual slowing down to a stop.

Yoga is a great swing. Bound by gravity and rectangled off by the mat, we experience an amazing number of movements and flight, we flow between them. The mat is a poem of sorts—a long, thin, unpunctuated Merwinesque poem where meaning shifts in the enjambment. One moment we are in a standing split, with one leg high in the air and hands on the ground, then we shift the lifted hip open, stacking it on top of the rooted one and lift the arm of the same side to come into half moon pose… We were facing down, finding ground on one leg, and now we are lifting and opening to the side, further challenging the stability as we gaze skyward.

Writing a poem is like designing a yoga class as you decide what kind of arc you want, which poses to hold, when to flow, and so on. But, as mentioned above, it’s the shifting from one to pose to another that is most resonant for me as a writer and a mover. Part of this has to do with the frequent return to Downward Facing Dog pose. The pose is often used to build heat at the beginning of class but then becomes a place to return to actively cool down. It is the pose that completes the sun salutation cycle, which is itself like a poem. When we rise up in the salute, I tell my younger students, “Reach for the sky and pull some sun rays down into your hearts.” We flow through the shapes and return to Downward Dog, looking at the past upside down through our legs! Let’s face it – it’s fun turning yourself into a tunnel, inverting the order of things. It’s what happens when our writing is going well—that element of surprise, that light or dark rebellion of looking at things from a new vantage point:

Here I am again, in my dog—

upside down, igniting energetic light,
like a child barking in the pose.

Here I am—late-blossomed yogi, finding the body’s levers,
so many rough transitions—
I lunge forward and come back,

press up and back down,
breathing, rolling forward towards
length and strength,
planking smoothly to the ground
and up again to inversion,
suspension of wants—I am held—

in the V of life, quietly barking.



Photo of the Author’s Yoga Space

Much has been written about the transformative quality of yoga, how it brings a practitioner into a greater, deeper experience of themselves. Part of this has to do with the subtle psychological effects of climbing inside the different personas that the poses offer. We are warriors, moons, trees, snakes, suns…mountains. Abstract and specific, we can locate ourselves among them. In short, we play in a universe on our mats, one we create again and again. An example of one of my favorite shifts, one that I feel speaks to me as a writer: When moving from Warrior 2 to Peaceful (or Reverse) Triangle, the front leg straightens, the arms flow up and back, one after another, and the gaze travels to the sky. In Warrior 2 we are looking straight on, proud, rooted and then we unfurl, while still rooted, rolling up towards the heavens, cultivating a pose of devotion to the greatness within and around us.

Kathleen Kraft’s poems have appeared in Anderbo, Gargoyle, Pirene’s Fountain,and other journals and have been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Jersey City, New Jersey, where she teaches writing, yoga, and creative movement to adults and children. She is working on a book on writing and yoga. (

Her poem “Sometimes Late in the Evening” appears in our recent issue.


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Best American Essays

Five Points is pleased to announce that James Rioux’s essay “Tattoos, Death Metal, Shaving, and other Ironies” has received the title of Notable Essay in the 2013 volume of The Best American Essays, edited by Cheryl Strayed! Rioux’s essay first appeared in Five Points vol. 14, no. 3. This well-crafted and heartfelt essay about loss and remembering those closest to you.


James Rioux
Tattoos, Death Metal, Shaving, and Other Ironies
“Go I.” —M.R.

I still rub at it now and again, as if it might smudge on my wrist, as if I’ve yet to fully accept its epidermal permanence. I must admit I’m pleased it’s not ornamental. God knows, I’ve had to work hard enough to establish any kind of masculine assertiveness; it doesn’t hurt to have rudimentary letters inked into my skin—letters just strange enough to possibly suggest some drunken ritual or mishap, or, better yet, a stint of long-term incarceration.

But it’s rarely exposed to others, as the inside of the wrist is mostly turned toward one’s own body, allowing even wrist-cutters a convenient anonymity. And then there’s always the long sleeve shirt. When I hide it it’s to avoid the awkward questions, or, more specifically, the potentially long and sometimes emotionally tedious answers. Go I? What does that mean?


I drove that day with a friend of mine to a tattoo parlor a couple towns over—a trip that might, on any other day, have created some anxiety. Living with severe agoraphobia is, for me at least, a constant navigation of boundaries that shift according to a complex set of variables (though, I think now, this describes the lives of most of us). On this day, nothing was stopping me from doing what I felt I had to—in this case, it meant convincing myself that my body was the place where my recently dead friend Matt was to be given a voice.

Put simply, Matt, a quadriplegic with severe cerebral palsy, was unable to speak for the thirty-six years of his life. When I met him in his early twenties, Matt was just learning to use a communication device that enabled him, with the use of an infrared head pointer, to activate icons on a screen that were programmed, when triggered in patterns, to generate a computerized voice. In another words, it allowed him some access to communicating his needs and wants. I could go on to mention how we all take this kind of activity for granted, etc. . . . but, frankly, after living so much of my life in the company of Matt, I’ve come to take such revelations for granted.


There’s something you should know about death metal. More specifically, about the way it’s recorded (at least as I’ve been told by some practitioners). Having done a lot of studio recording myself as a musician and engineer, I understand a little something about the rudimentary technical factors involved, and I’ve been able to replicate with some degree of accuracy the distinctive rumbling scream-growl that is typical to this particular genre of music. For the uninitiated, most death metal, or black metal, consists of a bed of distorted bass and pounding drums often played at a speed that requires immense strength and athleticism (I’ve tried!), layered with muscular stabbing guitar riffs, and above (or is it beneath?) it all, these guttural blasts of inarticulate vocals. Which brings us back to my point: these guttural blasts are, in fact, hoarse whispers recorded at incredibly close range with a mess of distortion and an industrial truck load of amplification. There is no other way a human voice could sustain the kind of depth and volume heard in these songs.

One of which was being played the day I walked into the tattoo parlor by a band I can only imagine had some such name as Vikings of the Apocalypse (for some reason unknown to me, the Scandinavians excel in this genre). Anyway, being a migraineur in addition to other neurological challenges, I was not pleased. This was not your typical tattoo shop, however; it lived up to the name parlor. Sleek and modern looking artwork adorned a hip waiting area with dark leather couches.

“Do you guys have an appointment?” a gangly young man with thin arms crazed with colorful animation asked my friend and me.

“No,” I said. “Is that a prob . . .” But he had walked away. I didn’t know if we should leave, and yet I was determined to get this done.

I watched the gangly young man whisper something to someone else behind a desk in front of a computer. The other young man stood, and as he got closer I saw that his arms were covered with what looked like dull smudges of paint. This was not promising (I would learn later, however, while he was tattooing me, that he was having his old ink lased off so he could have a fresh canvas).

“So what is it you guys wanted?” He seemed disinterested. “Just a couple words,” I said. “On my wrist.”


Matt loved hearing stories. Broken down cars, minor bumps and bruises, scrapes with authority, the wide variety of human frustration—these things amused Matt to no end. He was a connoisseur of minor calamity. What I also learned fairly quickly from Matt, however, was that his use of the communication device offered him no opportunity to tell his own stories. This was something I set out, with the help of his unceasing enthusiasm, to change. Before my introduction of narrative devices, a typical string of words from Matt might sound like this: “Go I store drink walk downtown Jim outside people talk walk pathfinder [the name of the communication device] vocabulary stretching home administrative.”

In addition to implementing a wider range of feeling words for Matt to use I wanted to find an easy way to distinguish one event from another and place those events into a sensible order of occurrence. After about a year of hard work (Matt would literally break out into furious sweats as he craned his head around to activate each sequence of icons, several hundreds of which he had memorized), Matt began to insert the simple word “then” to signify where one action ended and another began. The difference, though subtle, began to give Matt a narrative voice: “Van go I Portsmouth. Then go I outside walk downtown. Then people talk pathfinder. Then food drink I. Then go I van home I. Then pathfinder vocabulary. Then TV couch sit Jim. Then drink. Then administrative. Then Jim goodbye.”


Nick Filth (I can’t even make up a name like this, though he obviously did) walked me back to what looked like a dentist’s chair for my time with the needle gun. I tried to break the tension.

“So this is the last song on this album, right?” I asked, referring to the death metal.

“No,” Nick said. “Why?”

“Oh, I get it,” I said. “You guys have to live up to the whole tattoo tough image thing.” I was already regretting my attempt at a joke.

“We play all kinds of music here,” he said flatly.

“I see.”

I kept waiting for him to warm up, to try to make me feel comfortable. That was how I had imagined things transpiring. I had hoped for some kind of question, for instance, about the tattoo I was getting. Nothing. I should have been anxious, but all I could think about was how funny Matt would think this all was. The actual pain of the pulsing needle, kind of like a series of wasp stings of varying intensity, came as a welcome distraction from the awkward social interaction. Before we started he turned my wrist a couple times to get the right angle.

“Like this,” he said. “And try to stay still.”

And then without warning he pulled out a razor and put it to my wrist, scraping clean of hair a swath of skin to get things ready.


The morning of the day Matt died I shaved his face. At this point he was no longer able to communicate with his Pathfinder. A respiratory accident, due to illness and over-medication, had changed his life dramatically. He had been living in an assisted care facility for over four years, in and out of the hospital due to pneumonias, UTI’s, MRSA, bedsores, etc. . . . We had to wear gowns and gloves when in close contact with him—to protect him or ourselves or both I was never clearly told.

And yet on the days I shaved him I broke those rules. I needed the direct contact with his skin in order to stretch it gently to allow the razor a smooth surface. On this morning he was non-communicative. At this point he would answer questions with a sharp up-look “yes” with his eyes (if he was enthusiastic) or by looking at one of two fists we held in front of his face.

This morning I was getting nothing. Blank stares, even when I tried to joke about my dog keeping me up all night.

Until I mentioned a shave. Then his eyes shot up. I had other opportunities to see Matt after his body had gone cold and lifeless that day. I would be invited later into the ICU to “see him at peace.” But I choose to remember him this way:

I remove my gloves. I prepare his face with a hot towel and shaving cream. I turn his head carefully to each side, sliding the razor over tender folds I pull taut on his neck. I ask him if he wants me to leave his mustache. And then it happens—a brief smile and another look-up yes.

“You look like a cop,” I say. Then one last laugh, which now is a fuller smile accompanied by a wheezing from his trach.

Then I re-heat the towel with warm water and lay it around his chin like a soft white beard. Then I dab some loose stubble from around his stoma. Then I look Matt smile. Then tired Matt. Then touch I head soft last. Then go I

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Featured Poem: “A Man’s Little Heart’s Short Fever Fit” by Thomas Lux

It’s been a while since we’ve had a featured poem on our blog, so what better time than today, with the release our newest issue right around the corner? Today’s featured poem is from Volume 15 of Five Points, “A Man’s Little Heart’s Short Fever Fit” by Thomas Lux.

Poor as a dog. Poor as owl scat tufted

with mouse fur and a chipmunk’s hip

bone. Poor as a louse without a valise.

He liked the deepest caves,

the getting to the bottom of them

(the deepest, about 7 mi. down, ending

in not so square three yards of packed sand)

and he liked better: climbing out.

It was harder climbing out: up, up, up,

poor as a used toothpick,

poor as a man evicted from the poorhouse,

poor as a hole drilled in dust.

Did I say he liked the deepest caves?

Small caves breathe, middle caves sing,

the deepest caves roar.

He liked the deepest caves.

Did I say he loved the abseiling, abseiling down,

and the inch-by-inch rock-climber’s winch

up, up to the cave’s agape mouth?

Did I say what, and those, he loved, (and he did love what and those)

even as I knew he made a failure of it?


Image Thomas Lux’s most recent book of poetry is Child Made of Sand (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). His book of nonfiction From the Southland was also published in 2012 by Marick Press.

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A Literary Announcement!

Lydia Davis, the 2013 recipient of the Man Booker International Award, will be holding a reading at Georgia State October 17th in the Florence Kopleff Recital Hall. Ms. Davis is known for her translation of Madame Bovary, which won the 2011 French-American Foundation Translation Price, as well as her translation of Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, which won the same prize in 2003. Her Collected Stories was named one of the most acclaimed books of 2009. Works by Ms. Davis will also be featured in the upcoming issue of Five Points, which will debut at the end of this month!
Information about Ms. Davis’s reading and how to reserve your (free!) ticket can be found here:

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Obscure Holidays: Great Poetry Reading Day

bullwinkleFinally an obscure holiday that actually fits into our poetry theme! Today, April 28th, is “Great Poetry Reading Day.” As you might imagine, this day celebrates all the incredible poetry out there! “Great” is a relative term of course, so you can take it to mean whatever you like (as long as it involves poetry, that is).

For today’s featured poem, I actually had a tough time figuring out what to pick. After all, there are so many to choose from…Shakespeare, Keats, Tennyson, Frost….but since I have a feeling this may be the last “obscure holidays” post for a long while, I think I’ll go with one befitting of its final installment:

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night
by Dylan Thomas
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Hope you guys enjoyed all the obscure holiday posts! And enjoy some great poetry today! Find some at or the Poetry Foundation’s site.

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Featured Poem From Our Newest Issue: “At the Degas Exhibit” by Gregory Fraser

As you all know, our double issue of Five Points Vol. 15, No. 1 & 2 is on sale now, and we’d like to give you a little preview of one of the poems you’ll find inside:

At the Degas Exhibit

by Gregory Fraser


The docent wends us to The Dance Class

and it all flits back: the studio downtown,

few bucks an hour, ragging off the finger


grease of toe-shoed cygnets, tutu-ed swans,

scudding hardwood and ignoring both

of me—spray of acne, high-top Keds.


I would clatter on the local after school

(weekends once the Christmas pageant neared),

my face at every stop floating outside


the window beside my seat—a mask

tried on by stars in movie ads, commuters

cooling heels for later cars. Then Windex,


buff, till six, waving hello, farewell,

from glass to glass, plié to pointe—my hand

emitting squeaks, eliding dainty prints and streaks.


In my knapsack: comics, Catcher, lunch

untouched. And never once did I happen on

the courage even to speak to one of those


sugar plums of Rittenhouse, Society Hill.

Degas’s girls, our guide informs, practice

attitudes, inspected by their master


(one Jules Perrot) propped on his staff.

Note the Parisian mothers daubed

on the wall in back. Yet I see only tights


that bear the stamp McDevitt Dance,

hear gripes about third position, giddy talk

of boys. And search the sides and corners


for my Old World counterpart—some

sponge-and-bucket kid from a ragged edge—

undersized, near-sighted, invisible to art.


Here’s a little more info on Gregory Fraser:

Fraser.3Fraser is the author of two poetry collections, Strange Pietà (Texas Tech, 2003) and Answering the Ruins (Northwestern, 2009). He is also the co-author, with Chad Davidson, of the workshop textbook Writing Poetry: Creative and Critical Approaches (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008) and the composition textbook Analyze Anything: A Guide to Critical Reading and Writing (Continuum, 2012). His poetry has appeared in journals including the Paris Review, the Southern Review, the Gettysburg Review, and Ploughshares. The recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Fraser serves as associate professor of English and creative writing at the University of West Georgia.

Purchase copies of Five Points here!

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Poem in Your Pocket Day!

pocket_logo2It’s time again for’s national Poem in Your Pocket Day! According to their site, the purpose of this day is to “select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends.” What better way to express your love of poetry? For mine, I’m picking one of my all-time favorite poems by Emily Bronte:

To Imagination

When weary with the long day’s care,
And earthly change from pain to pain,
And lost, and ready to despair,
Thy kind voice calls me back again:
Oh, my true friend! I am not lone,
While then canst speak with such a tone!

So hopeless is the world without;
The world within I doubly prize;
Thy world, where guile, and hate, and doubt,
And cold suspicion never rise;
Where thou, and I, and Liberty,
Have undisputed sovereignty.

What matters it, that all around
Danger, and guilt, and darkness lie,
If but within our bosom’s bound
We hold a bright, untroubled sky,
Warm with ten thousand mingled rays
Of suns that know no winter days?

Reason, indeed, may oft complain
For Nature’s sad reality,
And tell the suffering heart how vain
Its cherished dreams must always be;
And Truth may rudely trample down
The flowers of Fancy, newly-blown:

But thou art ever there, to bring
The hovering vision back, and breathe
New glories o’er the blighted spring,
And call a lovelier Life from Death.
And whisper, with a voice divine,
Of real worlds, as bright as thine.

I trust not to thy phantom bliss,
Yet, still, in evening’s quiet hour,
With never-failing thankfulness,
I welcome thee, Benignant Power;
Sure solacer of human cares,
And sweeter hope, when hope despairs!

Find plenty of poems and info on the holiday at!


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Featured Prose: Elizabeth’s Spencer’s “On the Hill”

Elizabeth Spencer. Photo by John Rosenthal.

Elizabeth Spencer. Photo by John Rosenthal.

As you all might know, Five Points Vol. 15 No. 1&2 has just been released, and one of the stories you can expect to find inside is Elizabeth Spencer’s “On the Hill.”

Here’s a little bit of info about Ms. Spencer:

Elizabeth Spencer was born and raised in Mississippi. She has lived for long periods in Italy and Canada and now lives in North Carolina. She has published nine novels including The Voice at the Back Door, The Salt Line, and The Night Travelers, plus a memoir titled Landscapes of the Heart. The latest collection of her stories, The Southern Woman (Modern Library), includes The Light in the Piazza, which was recently made into a Broadway musical.

Enjoy the story!

“On the Hill” by Elizabeth Spencer

Regarding Barry and Jan Daugherty you first had to know that they lived out about two miles from town. Lots of people do live out in wooded areas here; the whole town is filled with trees so that the extent of it is not easily determined. Even so the Daughertys were to be thought of as distant. The little maps which accompanied their frequent invitations were faithfully followed, for they gave wonderful parties.

They had not been very long in Eltonville, only since last winter, it would seem. Exact dates of their arrival and acquisition of the property were not easily determined. The fact was nobody could pin down any exact information about the Daughertys. Jan, in fact, sometimes went by another name—Fisher. But it was easy to think she was in the modern habit of retaining her maiden name, or was it the name of a former husband? The Daughertys, if asked, gave rather round-about answers. Jan said, in regard to the name, “Oh, I keep it for Riley.” Riley was her son. Then was there a Mr. Fisher, somewhere off in her past? It was hard not to sound too inquisitive. Riley was a blonde little boy of about ten. When guests arrived, he ran about taking everybody’s coats and then vanished with them, upstairs. He reappeared at departure time, looking sleepy but holding wraps by the armload.

As for the girl, younger, probably six, she clearly was Barry’s daughter. But was she Jan’s? Were there two divorces in the background? Not unusual: who cared? It wasn’t really that anyone would care, one way or the other; it was just that nobody knew.

Going to the Daugherty house was like a progress to an estate. The road off the state highway wound through trees, but broke into the open on a final climb. The house itself sat free of all but a couple of flanking oaks. Its galleries suggested an outlook over vistas.

It was a joy to come there. How had they managed so soon to find such nice people? For a dinner invitation, you arrived just before dark and parked in an ample space. Barry himself would be just inside the door. He had a broad smile, skin that always looked lightly tanned. Sometimes a tie, sometimes not. He had picked up easily on local habits. His hair was dark brown, sprinkled with gray. He never slicked it down. And Jan? Well, she knew how to dress and how to greet. The feeling imparted was that every- thing was under control, and that the arriving guests were the choice people of the earth.


It would soon be dark. Looking out toward the terrace from where she sat at the end of her table, pouring coffee while Barry refilled wine glasses, Jan would say, “Last winter during the snow, what a lot of creatures wandered in.” “It happens in town, too,” one guest would offer. “I admired them, as much as you can admire a ’possum—is that it? Those things with the long snouts and skinny tails. I’d hate to dream of one. I wonder if they bite.”

“We’ll ask Riley to find out at school,” Barry said.

“They certainly bite,” one of the men volunteered, speaking from country knowledge. “But just if you corner them. They’re sort of timid.”

Where on earth were they from, not to know about ’possums?

“Then there was the raccoon,” Jan continued. “What a precious little guy. All black circles under his eyes.”

“You must have put food out.”

“Oh, just a few scraps.”

“They’ll love you to death. They’ll certainly bite you.”

Somebody had a story about a raccoon his aunt had let in the house, because he looked so cute. He had rifled the cupboards and climbed on the shelves. He had tried to get in the refrigerator. How to get rid of him?

“They carry rabies,” the same informing man said.

“Don’t disillusion me,” pled Jan.

Evenings there sped by, but when the guests spoke of them later, there was not much more to remember later than talk of ’possums and raccoons.

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Five Points Volume 15 1&2 Available Now!

fbinviteFive Points is proud to announce the release of our newest issue, Volume 15 1&2! This is a double issue packed with a wide array of poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, art, and more! Here are some of the contributors you can expect to see in the new issue:

  • Kim Addonizio
  • Ward Briggs
  • Billy Collins
  • Christopher Dickey
  • Lauren Groff
  • Jennifer Haigh
  • Barbara Hamby
  • Edward Hirsch
  • Jane Hirshfield
  • Alice Hoffman
  • Edward Hower
  • David Kirby
  • Laurence Lieberman
  • Deborah Luster
  • James May
  • Sharon Olds
  • Chelsea Rathburn
  • Anya Silver
  • Elizabeth Spencer
  • Elizabeth Spires
  • Ernest Saurez
  • Melane Rae Thon
  • Daren Wang
  • Lauren Watel
  • ……and many more!

Visit our website to find out more, or purchase copies of Five Points here!

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Obscure Holidays: Scrabble Day

On this installment of Obscure holidays, we have Scrabble Day, April 13th. You might think it difficult to find a suitable poem for this holiday, but wait until you see this–a Scrabble-tile poem that uses all 100 tiles to form an original poem in iambic pentameter:

scrabble poem

Pretty impressive, right? But if reading scrabble-tile lines of poetry makes your eyes bleed, here’s the actual text:

A Scrabble-Tile Poem by Mike Keith

Through sentient, gauzy flame I view life’s dread,
quixotic, partial joke. We’re vapour-born,
by logic and emotion seen as dead.

Plain cording weds great luxury ornate,
while moon-beams rise to die in Jove’s quick day;
I navigate the puzzle-board of fate.

Wait! Squeeze one hundred labels into jibes,
grip clay and ink to form your topic – rage;
await the vexing mandate of our lives.

I rush on, firm, to raid my aged tools,
but yet I touch an eerie, vain, blank piece,
as oxide grown among life’s quartz-paved jewels.

Once zealous Bartlebooth, a timid knave,
portrayed grief’s calm upon a jigsaw round;
yet now he lies, fixed quiet in his grave.

Just so we daily beam our pain-vexed soul
with fiery craze to aim large, broken core
and quest in vain to find the gaping hole.

And if you’re confused about just who “Bartlebooth” is, Mike Keith’s post has got you covered:

Who is “Bartlebooth”, you might ask? Ah, this strikes at the very core of the poem. Bartlebooth is the jigsaw-puzzling main character of Georges Perec’s massive constrained novel “La Vie mode d’emploi” (“Life A User’s Manual”). Perec’s novel consists of 100 chapters with one blank (missing), modeled after a Paris apartment building with 100 rooms. The theme of missing things constantly reappears (e.g., Bartlebooth dies as the puzzle he is working on has a single piece-shaped hole.)

It takes some real Scrabble devotion to create a poem like this, so kudos to Mike Keith (you can visit his original post here). And happy Scrabbling!

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