Student work: Phone number poems

Some phone number poems by my students. Tinkered to keep their actual phone numbers private! Again I’m struck by how good these are, how dynamic the line breaks, and compact the thought of them.

A clock,

Four chimes until sun
Hung lonely on a barroom wall
Tick tock.
Red eyes, crooked spine
Twelve drinks until the night shift starts,
It’s only cycles
Tick tock.

What did you
do to make them so mad?

Insult their baking skills?
Or was it something worse? You
can tell me.

I said their baby was handsome.
Turns out, it’s a girl.

To be
just what I wanted
in the past, then
and now

falling down
getting up
just how I

Hello there
I first saw you last night

Your face was set by moon light
Salty misty
On the beach a glimpse of your
Red hair.
Hello there, if I may
I am in love with a silhouette.

Where is
my cat?
Is she hiding?
She hides in cupboards
She is an elusive ghosty.
floats around my
like a spook.

Well well well,
Lookie what we have here.

An ambassador from my
hometown. You thought I’d left?

Still here.
I called finders keepers on
steering a bike with just one finger.

She sings as if it were life

She sighs soft songs
as if it were sad-
ness her
voice silences
the audience that
comes for her sweet sighing
of song

Can’t sleep.

I guess I rarely do.
I’m trying to keep my promise.
I wish I could call,
I need your help.
He needs brothers.
The rain comes more often than it did.
They tore down the place you saved me.

I saw

no I have not seen it
I dreamt it sleeping sideways
on route to somewhere white
I had not yet an understanding
of what pictures could mean
I just felt you through the glass door
say nothing of truth
I know

Exercise: Phone number poem

From our unit on the line.

Write a poem using your own phone number, with area code, as the template. Specifically, the number of syllables in each line should match the corresponding number in your phone number. If your area code is 360, the first line has three syllables, the second line has six, and the third line is blank (a stanza break).

The poem should read naturally—as if it just took this shape of its own accord. Don’t worry about the subject, let the form lead you where it will. An example:


How did you                                         3
find your way to this place?                   6
Oh, I was just thinking                          6
one day about toads,                          5
toads that look like stones, stones     6
that are toads                                                  3
when no one’s looking                          5
at them at all.                                    4

Not anyone’s actual number. Exercise adapted from Janet Burroway’s Imaginative Writing. Image up top is cropped from Kenneth Patchen’s “Imagine Seeing.”

Patchen – Imagine
In “The Argument of Innocence” (1976)

Imagine a rotary phone with 16 digits to range among. A computer dreams in hexadecimal . . .