Since words are the basic material of poems, the first games we devised
were ones that used words much as infants use building blocks. Although
simple, they help develop vocabulary recall and selection: the ability to
find and choose words, to consider which word suits the sentence and sense
better than another, is fundamental to poetry.
The games are fairly similar, in that the players acquire or use one letter
at a time to develop a group or individual work built one word after another,
though some are more suited to large groups and others to individual play.
For example: a session with the Springboard had over 150 contributing
players one wet afternoon in Netherley - a Shoveha'penny session could
have involved only perhaps 30 of them. Perhaps the most flexible of all has
been the card game version of the Amazing Push Poem Machine.
The games adapt themselves to the ability of the players - versions have
been enjoyed by infants and elderly; psychiatric patients and regional arts
officers, young offenders and teachers alike. They are all suitable for use
in "exposed situations" and the larger versions can be treated as high-energy,
busked-up fairground games, though the quality of the work usually
improves if pressure is reduced.
In all these games the "referee" or "scribe" is very important in assisting all age/
ability groups to produce coherent work and to explore the possibilities
of the game and the poem in play.
A theme, or at least a general idea of subject, will usually emerge after the
first few words, if it has not been previously agreed. When it does, the
scribe should point it out and get the players to agree on what they are
writing about and then help them to maintain the subject, though like all
poems the work may grow in unforseen directions. A firm grip needs to be
kept on the sense and basic grammar, but the scribe should also point out
the results of differing punctuations and help players to avoid dead-ends,
The scribe should continually read out the work so far, to keep players
involved and concentrating, to give a sense of the rhythm of the piece, and
to keep the subject and development of the work clear. In an open situation
the work should be recorded in a highly visible way - on a blackboard or
large sheet of paper - to emphasise the continuing process.
Co-operation should be encouraged between players, especially in the last
round of the card game, since the work will benefit from well-thought-out
sentences. The referee should also encourage the use of adjectives and
adverbs, as these will often solve or pass on difficulties and make the work
richer and more fluid.
These games can be made from anything - cardboard boxes, half-postcards,
toilet rolls, or simply chalked on the floor, drawn on paper - but any
structure that balls are to be thrown at must be stable and sturdy. I would
suggest that you leave out the letters V and Z, that you treat X as EX and
Q as ? (free choice).