Thursday, April 26, 2012

Allan Wolf: I Wrote Obsessively on my Walls

When I was 13 I began my writing career by writing on my bedroom walls. I wrote nonsense phrases and drew bizarre pictures. I made up goofy rhymes and wrote down important events in my life. At the time, never really thought of it as a "notebook" or as a "journal" but my bedroom walls were both notebook and journal in one, a place where I could find my voice through writing and keep track of all the major events in my life.

I wrote obsessively on my walls all through Middle School and High School. I never asked permission, and my parents never forbade it. It was just something that I did. Years later, my mother would explain to me that she and my dad figured if I was going to be writing on walls, it was best that I did it at home.

I ended up writing a book, ZANE'S TRACE, about a kid, Zane Guesswind, who writes on his bedroom walls just as I did. Zane is convinced that whatever statements he writes on his walls will eventually come true. Although the book is obviously autobiographical, I was not as deluded as Zane. Yet I DO believe my walls had magical powers of a sort. The act of writing helped me to make it through a tumultuous youth. And although I no longer write on my walls at home (my wife won't let me) I still keep a notepad in my back pocket at all times. Just in case.

These are all "butt books" with pages filled front and back.  Notes about life. They go back years and years.  I keep 'em in a bin.  I break out in a sweat if I don't have one on me.  And a pen in my right pocket.  I've just gotten used to it. My wife and kids have gotten used to it.  It's just a thing we all take for granted.  "Oh there's Dad and his butt book."

And he descended from the mountain top, 
holding in his hand a little spiral note pad. 
And he called it "Butt Book."  
And it held a list of ordinary things.  
But when the poet wrote these ordinary things in the Butt Book, 
they became extraordinary.

But the Butt Book was lonely.  
And so the Poet brought forth a second Butt Book 
made in the image of the first except this one had more pages 
and was college-ruled and slightly more expensive.  
And together the Butt Books kept safe the many ideas 
which the poet wrote upon their pages.  
And the Poet decreed 
that the two Butt Books should love and cherish one another.  
(Although since they lived in North Carolina 
their union was not recognized by law.)

And in the years that followed
the Butt Books multiplied 
and begat many generations of Butt Books
and the Poet rejoiced and brought forth many inventive ideas 
which he wrote in the pages with his right hand, 
but sometimes with his left hand 
because the Poet was just like that. 

Allan Wolf is an author, poet, performer, and educator who lives in Asheville, North Carolina with his wife and three kids. After three years teaching at Virginia Tech, Wolf became the Educational Director for Poetry Alive!, a national touring company that presents theatrical poetry shows for all ages. Some of Wolf's books include THE BLOOD-HUNGRY SPLEEN AND OTHER POEMS ABOUT OUR PARTS (Candlewick), IMMERSED IN VERSE: AN INFORMATIVE, SLIGHTLY IRREVERENT, AND TOTALLY TREMENDOUS GUIDE TO LIVING THE POET'S LIFE (Lark Books), and THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT (Candlewick). Conducting more than one hundred presentations every year, Allan Wolf is a veteran traveler through all the diverse worlds of verse from poetry slams to public schools, salons to saloons. And with literally hundreds of poems committed to memory, Wolf is always ready to spin out a stanza or two. Got rhyme?

Allan Wolf has generously offered to send a personalized copy of ZANE'S TRACE to a reader of this post. Please just leave a comment below to be entered in a drawing.  The winner of  ZANE'S TRACE will be selected on Monday evening, April 30 and announced on Tuesday Morning, May 1.

The winner of NEST, NOOK, & CRANNY by Suz Blackaby is Janet F.! Please drop a line with your snail mail address in my e-mail box - amy at amylv dot com. Congratulations!


  1. I simply have to say "butt books." That is all. Well, that and that I have a few, too... I'd just never called them that!

  2. I rarely have a back pocket so I can't really call mine butt books. But I have plenty of them, too. Fun post.

  3. Oh. My. Goodness. Too much wonderfulness in here quote. I just love this insightful episodes in a writer's life.

  4. I love Allan's parents for letting him write on the walls. My little brother did the same, only with graphic art instead of words, and I thought it was a wonderful thing. I thoroughly enjoyed this trippy trip into Allan's world.

    And on the fifth day, Allan gave us Butt Books, and it was good.

  5. Really funny photos and autobuttography!

  6. My daughter started pasting pictures & writing on walls too. Her father mounted an enormous piece of plywood on one wall so that it could become a permanent thing. It has layers & layers of work on it. Your walls reminded me of that time when it was so needed. I loved seeing the wall & the work & finally about the Butt books-doesn't much work for me, I keep handbag books, I guess! Thanks!

  7. Butt books butt books butt books--I have to say it THREE times, and I WISH I had wanted to write obsessively on my walls but I was already too much of a perfectionist when I started writing in earnest at 9. I'm curious about the relationship of the two Butt you need one in each pocket just to balance your butt, Allan, or do they serve individual but intermingled purposes? I would love to win "Zane's Trace." Thanks for sharing.

  8. And here I thought BB's were those pellets kids shot at each other, how wrong was I? Thank you Amy for highlighting this poetry passer and thank goodness for parents who let children write on walls!

  9. Thank you Allan for sharing this post, and thank you Amy for creating a cool site to expose exactly such behind-the-scenes insights.

    I don't have butt books, but I never leave home without at least one pen and something to write on. Makes for some sizable, if only temporary, collections of paper scraps, receipt margins, post-it notes, and airline napkins.

    Anyways, Allan ... I read the post twice, and I may have still missed it, but I must know. Where's THE WALL now?

  10. I am really excited to say that on Mon. night I get to meet Allan at the Poetry Olio at IRA!! He will regale us with his poetry and maybe he will have a butt book in his pocket and no one will know but me? Are any of you other poetry-loving bloggers going to be here in Chicago? I am also impressed he knows hundreds of poems by heart. I am a huge proponent of helping kids figure out that learning poems by heart is fun and easy and worthwhile. Something old should be new again! Would love to conduct a survey in a mall let's say to find out how many people know poems by heart, which ones, why and how. And I would give points even if it wasn't perfect because they were put on the spot. In my experience not many people know poems be heart, or had bad experiences with that in their formative years. But who knows for sure. I am going back to read his MMPoems so I "recognize" him. Janet F.

  11. I love it - butt books! who wudda known! And the photos are awesome, along with the story of not-quite-biblical proportions. thanks for brightening my day. I'll let my butt-books-in-a-crate know they've got cousins down south.


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