[Story Break] Forgetfulness
—a beautiful poem by Billy Collins

One of the companies I write for is launching new Memory Support programs at four of their Illinois locations. I’ve been doing a lot of research for this project, a lot of reading and a lot of writing. So I guess you could say that memory is on my mind.

That may be the reason that when I read this poem at Time Goes By, it made an impression.

What kind of impression does it make on you?

by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.



Choosing words carefully


I recently read an article by René Barbier about a novel with no verbs, poetry with no Rs, and other intentional forms of writing. That’s right. People are writing this way intentionally.

In the case of the verbless novel, for example, French author Michel Thaler—who for a reason I couldn’t uncover considers verbs to be “like weeds”—set out to prove they aren’t necessary. His action-word-less novel, The Train from Nowhere, is 233 pages long. Barbier, who, apparently, actually read it, describes the story as “staccato, weird, and a bit exhausting, but oddly inspiring. And very French.”

I don’t read enough French literature to know exactly what it means to be “very French,” but Barbier goes on to say that exercises like writing without verbs are important and worthwhile. “They demonstrate that writing is about self-control and choice,” he claims.

Barbier cites other examples:

  • Georges Perec wrote his novel La Disparition (The Disappearance) without using the letter E. He then wrote Les Revanantes (The Ghosts) using the letter E but no other vowels (except for the As in the title).
  • Gottlob Burmann wrote 20,000 words of poetry in his lifetime, never using the letter R. This was, however, an exercise not so much in self-control as in obsession, as Burmann had a personal loathing for the letter R.
  • Francois Le Lionnais wrote poems of only word. Barbier quotes his masterpiece “Fennel” in its entirety: Fennel.


My first reaction was to assume that The Train from Nowhere was more novelty than novel. Forcing oneself to follow self-imposed restrictions might be entertaining for the writer, but does it enrich the reader? Does it enhance communication? Does it make the world a better place? If not, why spend time on it?

Then a sentence from Barbier’s concluding paragraph made me re-consider:

“At the very least, Thaler’s experiment with verb-free writing may be seen as a plea to think harder about the way language is used, at a time when much of the bestseller list is crammed with intellectual fast food, larded with adjectives and additives, written to an utterly undemanding, conventional form.”

(By the way, I don’t know if Barbier’s first language is English or French, or if his article was originally written in English or translated later, but I found the wordplay delightful! Take a look at the sentence above again. Phrases like “crammed with intellectual fast food,” a verb such as “larded,” and the alliteration of “adjectives and additives” and “utterly undemanding” are truly masterful! You’ll also want to read the full article just for the two clever limericks he ends with.)


So are you willing to engage in a little exercise, following Thaler’s lead? Try your hand at non-verb-al communication by leaving a verb-less comment below! Here are some samples, any of which you are welcome to plagiarize:

  • “Excellent post, Melanie!”
  • “Thoughtful. Engaging. Clever. As always.”
  • “Your usual brilliance on display!”

You get the idea. Give it a shot!

Or, if you think this kind of wordplay is pointless, leave a comment explaining why—and use all the verbs you want!

Related posts



Good Friday poem

Good FridayI, too,
while He prays
and sweats blood in agony.
Somehow never see His
anguished eyes
outstretched arms
“Come to me?”

And I, too,
weep bitter tears
when the shame rips my heart,
not after cock crow,
but as the wine burns my throat.

He grits His teeth
while we still pound nails
through hands, and weary heart.

And, tears brimming,
He still holds wide His arms.



Poetry is one way to communicate a deep truth to a perceptive audience. If your church or ministry needs liturgies, readings, or other writings to carefully, creatively convey a seasonal message, contact LifeLines.

[Story Break]
After the Storm (a haiku)

After the Storm

Storm wipes out power
Freezer slowly loses cool
Grilled chicken tonight


Why a poem today?

This morning I joined Plinky.com, a site full of creativity-enhancing writing exercises, which gives you a forum for publishing your answers to random questions. Today’s exercise was to write a haiku about the last meal you ate.

I don’t know, do you think exercises like this make good blog posts?