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This past Monday, I participated in a public protest against efforts by a local group to ban more than 200 “inappropriate” books from the libraries in our school district. (Think Native Son by Richard Wright. Beloved by Toni Morrison. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee . . . ) Following the protest, I attended a meeting of the school board where dozens of people offered public comment on the matter.

Later, having gone to bed, I couldn’t sleep due to what I’d witnessed. So, in the wee hours, I resorted to browsing on my computer. Strangely, I ended up on a blog reading about lesser-known poetry forms. Why, when I mostly write free verse?

That’s when I learned for the first time about nonets. You ever heard of them?

A nonet is a nine-line poem with a specific syllabic structure: nine syllables in the first line, then one fewer syllable in each succeeding line.

The instant I read about this form, I knew that I must use it as a scaffolding to express my angst about book-banning and similar uncivil—even dehumanizing—tactics running amok in our society.

The first line of my nonet leapt to mind, ready-made: “If my life were a book you’d ban me.” Those nine syllables perfectly conveyed what I’d felt while sitting in the school board meeting—namely, that efforts to ban certain books are fundamentally efforts to exclude certain human beings from full participation in our community.

The rest of “The Title of This Poem Has Been Censored” flowed easily from there.

9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . . 6 . . . 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1

A syllabic countdown to the empty space after the final line.

I consider that empty space at the poem’s end as merely the beginning. It represents the place where you and I choose either to speak up or be silent on behalf of a free and inclusive society—where we choose either to act or do nothing in defense of those who would be punished for merely being and expressing who they are.

I invite you to try writing a nonet of your own. Perhaps even on the same subject.

Perhaps you’ll even share it as a comment on this post.

Photo by Freddy Kearney on Unsplash
Phyllis Cole-Dai

Phyllis Cole-Dai has authored or edited eleven books in multiple genres, including historical fiction, spiritual nonfiction and poetry. She lives in Brookings, South Dakota, USA.

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