from Novel Lines 101
by Stephen Bett

“101 alphabetical poems, each riffing on the opening line of a postmodern novel or metafiction.”   — SB

Robert Coover, Ghost Town

T’thet hardass double-dealin shark over thar, the dodrabbid burglar whut operates this skin store. He’s the one whut give me this extry elbow and my own bones t’flop when I opened my big mouth after ketchin him with a holdout up his sleeve. The motherless asshole tuck us fer all we had, sheriff.

Nuthin like a hardass double-dealin literary career
dedicated to combating reductive and linear thought

Is there

Ketchin us with a holdout
Hidden, brown pocket

When we’d thought we wuz poker face

The first fantasmagorical postmod western
(’ceptin Slinger, dufus!) 

Reads like a hallucination  1 

1 Italicized review excerpts for Ghost Town, in order: TLS, Chicago Tribune, Philadephia Inquirer; “brown pocket:” asshole (Brit slang); Ed Dorn’s Gunslinger

William J. Craddock, Be Not Content:
A Subterranean Journal
 (1st Edition, 1970;
in memory of Liba Schlanger)

As our Psychedelic Saint, Doctor Tim, says. [But wait] It’s actually ‘turn on, tune in, drop out, freak out, fuck up, and crawl back’.

Another hallucination, perchance ?

Or not —

If you can remember, well you... bah bah bah

Nothing ever hops entirely out of sight;
freak-outs like bits of staying power

You have to drop before you’re hit

Crawling back, a matter of privilege
admittedly (oof)

Closing out the high C’s  2

2 A slight homage, too, to acid-dropping poet Ted Berriga’s magazine “C”— for a fascinating history of which, see Clay & Phillips’ A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980; Liba named our favourite cat ever, “Acid”

Lydia Davis, “First Grade: Handwriting Practise”
(from The Collected Stories)

The full story: Were you there when / they crucified my Lord? / Were you there when / they crucified my Lord? / Oh! Sometimes it causes me / to tremble, tremble, tremble. / Were you there when / (turn over) / they crucified my Lord?

No, we were not there but our ligatures
were a’tremble thrice

On our knees      Shred a first grade tear

Scrambled together a First Aid Manual
our stabilizers gone

We tossed RICE    (Praise the Lord)
dissemble, dissemble, dissemble no more

Oh! we said, dont discount
further rehab protocols

For which     Pass the Loot &
P.T.O.  3

3 For a sprain: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation; for further reading on a more progressive Xtian theology, see the Westar Institute & Jesus Seminar Forum

Don DeLillo, Great Jones Street (opening lines)

Fame requires every kind of excess. I mean true fame. I mean long journeys across gray space. I mean danger, the edge of every void

Please turn over —      re·face yourself
your own sur·face, your grey-
scale on its side

Your infamy is an eternal kenophobic

There were 39 shades of white noise
behind your eyes        (don’t go all
numerology over this)

And two home openers that went like oracles:

Words, sentences, numbers, distance to destination

Everyone wants to own the end of the world

Another spook shelf-life inching close
to voided —      fame’s true edge 4 

4 DeLillo evidently had 39 alternate titles for White Noise; & in italics, the opening sentence from two more DeLillo novels, The Silence & Zero K

Stephen Bett is a widely and internationally published Canadian poet with 25 books in print (from BlazeVOX, Chax, Spuyten Duyvil, & others). His personal papers are archived in the “Contemporary Literature Collection” at Simon Fraser University. His website is

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