Poems From Page 143

There is a poetry concept in which you make a copy of a page from a book you like and blacken out most of the words. You choose the blackening mindfully, though, thus leaving behind words that form a poem. In this way and in a fashion, you are collaborating with the book’s author to write a poem.

As an example, here’s one I made from the novel “All Quiet on the Western Front:”

A clean shirt.
Yes, socks too perhaps.
The conversation becomes smutty. Intercourse. He enjoys himself.
Who isn’t smutty?
On the other side there are women, three women.

But why page 143?

The answer comes from Tom Junod’s brilliant article / interview / biography of Mr. Rogers (yes, THAT Mr. Rogers) that was published in Esquire magazine in 1998. The reader learns that for as long as he can remember when Mr. Rogers steps on his scale each day he weighs 143 pounds:

“This has happened so many times that Mister Rogers has come to see that number as a gift, as a destiny fulfilled, because, as he says, “the number 143 means ‘I love you.’ It takes one letter to say ‘I’ and four letters to say ‘love’ and three letters to say ‘you.’ One hundred and forty-three. ‘I love you.’ Isn’t that wonderful?”

So that’s the 143 part of my project.

To submit an entry, email me a picture of your blackened out page 143, not forgetting to include the title and author of the book. Including a few sentences about why you’ve chosen this book and who you are is a plus.

Assuming I’m not inundated with entries (or those not suitable for work), I’ll post all I receive at page143.org. And for context, here’s the actual blog entry for the “All Quiet” poem above so you can see how it looks.

Of interest, at least to me, is that I found the Esquire article about 15 years ago, back when I was the Director of the Puget Sound Community School. I was introducing a small group of high school students to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and chose Mr. Rogers to be the illustration of self-actualization.

I read the article to them, something that brought many of us to tears. In fact, reading the article worked so well I did it again, and again, and again in other classes. Soon, it was referred to as my “Mr. Rogers Lesson” and I was giving it at other schools.

Several students and I got so excited by the idea of promoting the 143 concept that we created a store on Café Press and started selling 143 t-shirts, hoodies and buttons. I just looked it up and the shop is still there!

Also of interest, the Esquire article was the inspiration for the Mr. Rogers movie that came out last year starring Tom Hanks.

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