“The Table of the Elements” by J.T. Whitehead – selection #37 of Deal Me “IN” 2016


The Card: ♦K♦ King of Diamonds

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, diamonds is my suit for “Stories” by Contemporary Authors with an Indiana Connection

The Selection: “The Table of The Elements” a collection of poems published in 2015.

The Author: J.T. Whitehead – I met him at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (he also happens to be the husband of the Library’s executive director, Julia Whitehead) at the “launch party” for this book. He also serves as the editor of the Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, “So It Goes.”

img_6202What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/storylegacy project seal of approval 2roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is also now officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.


The Table of the Elements

Okay, so, full disclosure: I don’t (or very rarely) read poetry. I usually don’t “get” poetry. My dad used to like to attempt to memorize poems, and some of his favorites were Poe’s “Annabel Lee” or “The Raven” and Robert W. Service’s “The Cremation of Sam Magee.” As a kid I did like listening to them, and enjoyed their rhythm and meter. Most poetry these days, it seems, is not of the rhyming type, which I think somehow makes it even harder for a brute like me to appreciate it. Nonetheless, I did enjoy working my way through this slim volume of poems.

First of all, I love the concept. Not surprising, since I love the Periodic Table (Nerd alert!) :-). The book is divided into two parts, the first with poems about specific elements, the second with poems about compounds (like nitro glycerine for example – see picture above from infohive.net). I asked the author if he was aware of Sam Kean’s great book “The Disappearing Spoon: and Other True Tales of Love Madness and The History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements” (Long title; great book – see here for the summary on Goodreads.com). He said he wasn’t but “funny you should ask” as he did encounter other poets who told him he had ripped off their idea. They just weren’t sure how he found out about it(!)

Anyway, instead of reading just one poem for Deal Me “IN” I ended up reading them all as they are mostly short. Here is one favorite, and about one of my “favorite elements” as well.



are as fast

& just as slick

& kill as quick-

Limo lengthy

classy chassis

metal monster

classic auto

Crashing head-ward

tires skidding

metal mangled

causing death

fastest planet

hottest planet

closest planet

chasing death-

gods’ messenger

winged messenger

Death’s messenger

& coming fast –

Tide turner

Skin burner

Gill filler

Fish killer –

Quicksilver –

the slowest killer –

The fastest killer –

A killer –

I have now also acquired a Periodic Table deck of cards (actually two decks – to accommodate more elements) and the King of Diamonds is the card for Iron. There was a poem about Iron included in the book (not all elements were represented, especially trans-uranium ones 🙂 )


(Sometimes when you go to book events, the author will sign your book for you.  Actually, pretty much ALL the time they will 🙂 )

I found a nice interview with Whitehead at http://www.vonnegutlibrary.org/as-is-for-arsenic-an-interview-with-national-book-award-nominee-j-t-whitehead/

Buy this book online from The Broadview River Press at http://www.thebroadkillriverpress.com/apps/webstore/products?page=2

Note: Mercury image from periodictable.com


  1. tracybham said,

    October 5, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    Jay, this is a very cool post and an interesting book. I don’t know that much about the elements except that I learned about them in college (eons ago), but that sample poem was very nice.


    • Jay said,

      October 6, 2016 at 9:52 am

      Thanks Tracy! I’ve re-read the “Mercury” poem several times now and find myself liking it more and more. Maybe if I do that with all poems I would experience something similar. Hmm…

      That other book I mention above – though non fiction – is great reading and doesn’t require any advanced chemistry knowledge. It was one of my favorite non fiction books of the past few years.


  2. hkatz said,

    October 23, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    This looks like a great collection, and I love the idea of it (especially at the moment, I’m studying some chemistry on my own, for the fun of it and as part of deepening my understanding of biology).

    Have you ever read The Periodic Table by Primo Levi? He uses different elements as the structure of his memoir, and it’s quite beautiful.


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