Diary of a Poet

The Bookstore Game


Shelves at the Edwin Markham House library

I have a little game I play in bookstores. First I find the poetry section. Then I run my eyes along the shelf, head cocked to the right so I can read the books’ skinny spines. I’m looking for book I’ve never read by an author I’ve never heard of. I’m looking for something new and strange, for the experience that only poetry delivers. I want to be moved.

Yesterday in J. Michaels Bookstore which has a better-than-average poetry section, I scanned the shelves until I found City of Regret by Andrew Kozma. I pulled it from the shelf and held it in my hands. Yes, I felt it: the ripple of intuition informing me that I had found the book.

I tested my intuition a step further. Part of the game requires me to find a poem that is one or more of the following: a) deeply disturbing, but in a good way; b) weirdly provocative; or c) just weird. I opened the book to page 7 and read:

The Transplant Ward

Even the most sincere in need

wait months or years, eyes fixed


to the walls like water stains.

They practice feeling hollow


with hands on their chests,

caging those small moments of space


they won’t remember

when surgeons unhook the heart


and hold the body open

as it rushes to fill itself.


“The Transplant Ward” filled all three requirements. I took the book to the counter and paid for it. The man behind the counter remarked that he was happy to see someone in the poetry section. We chatted briefly and then I left, my new purchase tucked into my purse.

When I got home, I found a letter in the back of the book from the publisher, Zone 3 Press, addressed to a professor at the University of Oregon and asking for a review. Another zing: I’m immersed in writing reviews for Sticks & Stones. I’m not planning to write a review of City of Regret, but reading it, and reviews of it, will certainly aid in my writing.

This brings me to my last point for this blog post. Writers need to be readers. To me, this seems self-evident, but in my experience, not enough writers read as widely and as deeply as they should. The decline of reading in this country is – dare I say it – deplorable. Writers have no excuse.

Go out and play the Bookstore Game today!


City of Regret by Andrew Kozma is available from Zone 3 Press. 

The book was reviewed by Serena Agosto-Cox at Savvy Verse and Wit. 



9 replies »

  1. I used to discover music by in a similar manner in record stores back in the day. Cool band name I’ve never heard, cool album title, interesting art… I’d buy it. I should try this with poetry. And yes, reading, constantly, is so important.

  2. It’s good to know my book is still out there. I hope the rest of the book is as worthwhile and interesting to you as “The Transplant Ward.”

    My model for picking new books up is based on the cover and random lines, though I haven’t done that for while. I like your model, though, getting the tactile and ephemeral into play as well.

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