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Students Introduce Spine Poetry to Library Patrons

Marylhurst English students introduced patrons at Lake Oswego Public Library to electronic literature through an exercise in creating spine poetry.

Excerpt from an article by Cliff Newell on,
April 4, 2012.

Until recently, a pile of books was just a pile of books.

But now they are poetry. Spine poetry.

Kathi Inman Berens and her colleagues from Marylhurst University introduced this new concept with a special event at the Lake Oswego Public Library March 28. It was deceptively simple. They set up a table in the middle of the library and piled books on it. Then they invited browsers to stack the books in any combination and write a poem based on the titles.

Frankly, this might sound crazy at first. By writing spine poetry a reader is introduced to not just reading but creating while they read, something that is demanded by electronic literature.

At first, a traditional book lover must overcome the temptation to turn tail and run. However, confusion is normal when first confronted with spine poetry. But Inman Berens is irresistible, and thorough, in explaining it, and teacher Jesse Stommel and his Marylhurst students have such enthusiasm for their project that soon you find yourself catching the fever. They realize they must first convince a newcomer to try it.

Going along with Stommel on this journey were Marylhurst students Ken Schultz, Jessica Zisa and Lans Pacifico.

"The fun part when we started was that no one had any idea what electronic literature was," Schultz said. "The format was awesome."

"Electronic literature is booming right now," said Zisa, who served as public relations coordinator for the project. "It was hard to find one definition for what it is."

"We feel like we're an icebreaker ship for a new idea," said Pacifico, who reached out to high school students, one of multiple community segments the group tried to reach.

"Once people see what we're doing they understand," Stommel said. "At first they're overwhelmed and stunned. They understand by doing this experiment with us."

Their goal was to preserve the history of traditional reading but push forward into a new direction at the same time. A spine poetry project seemed like a great way to start. The response to their new website,, has shown that hundreds of people are ready to take the spine poetry challenge.

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