Creativity in the Trenches

Back in my bookselling days, I used to write poetry by reprinting out the title stickers for the back of the books, cutting out words, and sticking them together in a new order. The poetry was hard-hitting stuff, a genre born of boredom, a frustrated libido, and a chronic lack of sunlight. Sometimes my coworkers and I wrote poetry together, which resulted in killer lines such as “My fuzzy thoughts: we are in big trouble, / and quiet flows the vodka born of death / we have been caught in a box of symbolic quantum dinosaurs.”

At my first office job, I challenged one of my friends (who worked in an office across town) to a bad poetry contest. We would give each other words such as “kitten,” “rainbow,” and “pink ribbons.” After we wrote the most hackneyed poems possible (this is harder than you think, people), we wrote pretentious reviews of each other’s work.

The other day I found myself 400 words into the worst fantasy novel ever, one that cheerfully embodied the very worst cliche and sexism of the genre, just as an escape from the craft book I was editing.

How do you amuse yourself?


15 responses to “Creativity in the Trenches

  1. Indy,

    You forgot to mention that you self published the greatest hits of the office poems, complete with illustrations, into Poem and Other Poems. The “grey kitten” and “rainbow” poem made it into the book.


    oh the rain, it falls
    the rain it falls, oh the rain,
    bright rain, how it falls,
    dampening my fluffy hair,
    the rain, the rain
    oh it falls, gentle curves
    like a rainbow, the rain,
    falls and falls,
    it is not the rain,
    it is my heart.


    the grey kittens frolick
    in the heart of the sunlight

    forgotten is the hearth
    they sat by all winter long

    the dynamite of fire is not needed.

  2. Two Words: Bulwer-Lytton; well, perhaps we should restate this as one hyphenated word, or, rather more precisely, a word comprising a hyphenated name, a name famed far and wide for prosaic error — which is to say a synecdoche of prose in the mode of purple (purple being, as the scientists tell us, light of the shortest visible wavelength, thereby establishing at the very least a humorous sort of irony) — a name immortalized by such diverse bards, scholars, and tellers of tales as Charles Schulz, he of cartoon-writing renown, or Professor Scott Rice, of the English Department of San Jose State University, and founder of the Bulwer-Lytton Awful Fiction Contest.

      • You just made my day. I hadn’t realized that you could MAKE IT UP. I thought it was only for published sentences. I am hereby going to submit to it rather than finish my paper on The Effect of Obsessive Rubix Cube Usage on Forty-Something Computer Scientists.

        Please reveal yourself to the adulation of dozens and share your sentence here.

      • Hm. I can’t seem to reply to the correct comment, but here it is anyway:

        “His mistake, Shut-eye McBlamaway reflected, was not in standing up to a gang of desperadoes and rustlers on the high country, but in standing up to a gang of desperadoes and rustlers who had just left the set of a Sergio Leone shoot, and were thus equipped with those guns that never run out of ammunition. “

      • And yes, I think it’s a moral imperative that you create the Unspeakably Bad Poetry Competition. I’ve already started working on an entry πŸ™‚

  3. Thank you for my contest winning books, Indy! They arrived today and I’m looking forward to paging through them this weekend. πŸ™‚

  4. I love this. I hope one day I can get caught in a box of symbolic quantum dinosaurs.

    High school breeds its own special brand of ennui, and one of my friends and I were particularly inspired in typing class. We were in different periods back-to-back, and we’d meet in the middle and exchange what we’d typed. Poems, stories, dry observations of our classmates and our string of substitute teachers. I wish I had the notes at my fingertips, because I’m sure some of it was almost as good as the vodka born of death.

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