The Book of Unwritten Poems
In Curtis Chen’s mysterious “The Book of Unwritten Poems,” the reader’s interaction with their copy of the book takes on cautionary new dimensions. Very worth a read, and then another… ~ Julian Yap, June 18, 2022
The Book of Unwritten Poems
By Curtis C. Chen
The Book of Unwritten Poems is exactly one hundred pages long.
Each page is blank, save for a title at the top.
There are no page numbers. There are no—
Okay, stop. We went over this, didn’t we? You need to wait until after the litany to ask questions. I know you have a lot of questions, you all do at first, and I’m sorry I won’t be able to answer most of them, but this is the way it is. This is how it’s done.
Cool. Where was I? Never mind, I’ll just start over.
The Book of Unwritten Poems is exactly one hundred pages long—
Yeah, no, okay, I can see the look on your face, and the answer is: nobody knows. Nobody knows why it’s exactly one hundred pages. These are just facts. Can we— Look, I just need to get through this, and then we can talk about whatever the fuck—
I’m sorry. I apologize. It’s just . . . it’s been a rough week, and that’s not your fault, it’s nothing to do with you. It’s just . . . the poems, you know? The poems.
Listen, do you mind if I don’t use the litany? I’m going to tell you all the same stuff, you’ll get all the information you need, but I just— I can’t look at that thing right now. Is that okay? I’ll just say it in my own words?
Cool. Thanks. I probably should have called in sick but— Oh no, don’t worry, I’m not actually sick, it was just a bad night, I broke up with my partner, and—
Sorry. You don’t need to hear all that. Let’s talk about the book.
The one-hundred-pages thing matters, and the absence of page numbers matters, because you’ll need to count the pages when you first get your copy, before you start reading. Think of it as a meditation. Getting yourself into the right mindset for appreciating the work properly.
Your personal copy of The Book of Unwritten Poems may be missing some pages. That’s why you need to count them before you begin. If you find that your copy contains all one hundred pages exactly, that’s fine. Many of them do.
If you find that your copy contains fewer than the full one hundred pages— No, don’t take it back to the bookstore! It’s not a mistake. Not a printing error. This is the copy you were meant to have. It’s not a problem.
But the other possibility: if your count reveals that the book has more than one hundred pages, you need to destroy that copy right away. I’m serious—this is the only time when book burning is not only allowed, but required. Kill it with fire immediately.
Trust me, the things that can happen if one deviates from ritual, they’re truly horrific. The rules exist for good reasons. We may not understand why or how the books do what they do, but we know the consequences if you don’t respect their power.
Look, if you really want to know, you can go ask a bookseller. That’s one thing they’ll be willing to talk to you about. I know they’re hard to get close to, trust me, I— Nope. We’re not talking about that. Sorry.
Get your book, count the pages; if you have more than a hundred, torch the thing and go back to the bookstore for an exchange.
Yeah, of course they’ll want the ashes for verification. It’s the bookstore.
Okay. So you have your copy of The Book of Unwritten Poems, you’ve counted the pages and confirmed that it’s no more than one hundred poems, and you’re ready to begin reading.