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Marcus Goodyear


At Play in the Fields of Poetry

An invitation to TwitterSpeakPoetry

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The Rules of the game are also simple. Some of them are determined by the medium of Twitter: limit each snippet of poetry to 140 characters (about 3-4 lines of poetry) and include slash marks to indicate line breaks. Others are more philosophical in nature: stay on prompt, be poetic, and be kind. Poetry is not a zero-sum game. We do not advance ourselves in the game by belittling the work of others. In fact, the more people who play, the more lines they submit, the more language we have to enjoy.

The Resources of the game are where things get interesting. First, we could not do this without Twitter and the Internet and computers and cell phones and all of the ubiquitous technology of the 21st century. Also, the game interface created by Matt Priour at TweetSpeakPoetry.com has been a key resource in getting more people to play the game. More important, though, poetry itself is the resource. We don't need Monopoly money or footballs or 3 lives remaining to combat an opponent. We have all the resources of poetic devices and sound devices and figurative language. In order to play the game well, poets need to understand the resources of poetry.

Every good game needs Conflict, and ours has it too. When 30 people are all posting new lines of poetry several times a minute, the flow of language gets very complicated very quickly. Such speed and noise do not put the players in conflict with each other so much as create a sense of conflict and excitement within the players. It takes a lot of brainpower to watch the prompt, watch the stream of responses, and generate new responses at the same time. This element of the game helps people let go. It short-circuits our inhibitions so we can tap into our creative selves again.

The Boundaries of the game are also fairly simple. First, we accept the boundaries of Twitter, posting 140 characters at a time from our personal accounts and including the necessary metadata, like our game hashtag #tsptry. In addition to this, L. L. Barkat created a time limitation. Like competitors in a football game, we have a schedule of play. Most of the time, our game field is empty. But on game nights, we turn on the bright lights, put on our uniforms, kiss our children to bed, and settle down with a laptop or cell phone to join our peers on the playing field. More than other elements of the game, the boundaries are something we continue to tweak. We have tried longer, slower games that last all day. We have even tried adding additional boundaries of rhyme and meter, but the simple one-hour format seems to work best.

Finally, you might wonder about the Outcome of the game. Each game doesn't produce a winner. In the future, we have talked about awarding badges for "best line" or "most prolific," but for now we keep it simple. The goal of each game is to generate new poetry written by the community and to publish the results on the game's blog with links to every participant. In the beginning, Glynn Young edited these poems himself. Now, we open the stream of each game to the players and encourage them to write their own poem from the material, post the poem on a blog, and share a link with the other players.

Permission to Play Games

In the end, Tweet Speak Poetry is more than a game, it is a philosophy of poetry as a game. The rules and resources of the game are mostly decided by the rules and resources of poetry itself. Sometimes our attempts to study poetry in university settings can take the joy out it. We forget how to play with T. S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi" and try instead to wrestle the meaning from it. If we play poetry at all, we treat the poem like an opponent, to be pummelled into submission. If we are to win, the poem must lose.

Applying game theory to poetry has helped us rediscover the fun of it—using our wits, exploring language through social media, imposing new boundaries on ourselves, and reminding ourselves that the outcome of the game is simple: more people who love poetry and write poetry.

Most of all, though, playing poetry games gives us permission to be silly again. We love T. S. Eliot, but we also love W. H. Auden. We love Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson and Julia Kasdorf and Scott Cairns and Luci Shaw, but we also love Shel Silverstein. We can't be serious and disciplined about something if we forget how to play.

Marcus Goodyear is senior editor for TheHighCalling.org. He is the author of a collection of poems, Barbies at Communion.

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