A few weeks ago, we tried a new game at TweetSpeakPoetry.com. I dubbed it (oddly) the exploding ninja poetry game. I thought it was funny, but it seemed to confuse everyone else.
Regardless, we still managed to get 13 people to contribute 57 lines. With a little creative thinking, those lines have led to three sonnets. Two at T. S. Poetry and one more by Nancy at PoemsandPrayers.
Why are we doing this? Why partner with 13 people to create sonnets that don’t quite make sense?
To answer that, I need to put on my English professor hat for a minute. You can take the teacher away from the chalk board, but you can’t take chalk out of the teacher’s hand. Or something like that.
Wordsworth reinvented poetry (and arguably started Romanticism) in 1798 when he began writing poetry with the language of the common people. Gone were the obscure neo-classical references to random Greek gods and goddesses. Gone were the overused latinate words. Instead, he called poetry “emotion recollected in tranquility” and gave us wonders like “Daffodils” and “Tintern Abbey.”
A few hundred years later, poetry needed another reboot. Although I love T. S. Eliot and his ideas of the objective correlative, I have to credit William Carlos Williams with keeping it simple. Williams said, “No ideas but in things” and gave us wonders like “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say.”
Now we’re a decade into the 21st century. Time for another reinvention of poetry. Where shall we go? I say we take it back to the roots of Japanese haiku and renga. Forget emotion. Forget imagery. Forget moralizing. Those are tools of poetry, but they aren’t the heart of poetry.
Poetry is a game. So let’s play.
Consider Wikipedia’s simple explanation of game theory: ”Game theory attempts to mathematically capture behavior in strategic situations, in which an individual’s success in making choices depends on the choices of others.”
This is what T. S. Poetry is all about. Our lightning games generate poems that work or don’t work depending on the overall engagement from the community of contributors. The better the game play, the better the poems Glynn is able to come up with.
Similarly, our slower sonnet game could only generate sonnets as good as the individual lines submitted by the players of the game. Like digital photography, quality comes through quantity in this case. Our crowd-sourced sonnets really depend on the wisdom of the crowd. The bigger the crowd, the deeper the wisdom.
These aren’t new ideas. Oulipo has been doing it since the 1960s. But Twitter and blogs and Facebook make it possible for everyone to participate and find success at various levels. We can use new technologies to popularize the bizarre work of the Oulipo group in France. We can use new technologies to apply game theory to poetry.
Frankly, this whole thing has me really, really excited about poetry again. Whatever you think of the abstract reasoning behind our poetry game, you ought to try playing it with us. I think you’ll be surprised at how fun it is.
If you aren’t up to playing games, at least go read our first three crowd-sourced sonnets:
- “Courtship” and “Body and Blood” (edited by yours truly at T. S. Poetry)
- throughout the day (edited by Nancy at PoemsandPrayers)
Photograph “New Game What does a Scrabble game you played in tell about yourself?” by garlandcannon, used under a Creative Commons license.