Simple starts : Games in boxes

Many of the Project's first games, designed with playschemes in mind, were large fairground style games of chance. The Amazing Push Poem Machine (so named by Carol Ann Duffy) was made of beer crates and a multicoloured ramp along which the ball was bounced; Pete's Powerful Poetry Pipes (named for Pete Morgan, another of the Project's early guest poets) was a collection of coloured large cardboard tubes from a carpet warehouse held in a wooden box approximately 1.5 metres square; while the Springboard's box contained bed-springs fixed by horseshoe nails to wooden slats. In each case the ball was bounced in front of the game in such a way as to fall into box, tube or spring, and the player then collected the letter stencilled on the receptacle.

The variations in the subsequent work, the sites and use were numerous, ranging from gigantic communal poems with letters each ten inches square on fences in housing estates to individual hand stencilled sheets in windowless community centres; from words written on small shapes of coloured paper pasted onto large hardboard cut-outs to long alliterative lines written out on cloth banners and hung from trees, collected by carrying the game round a neighbourhood.

In the Pipes game players would collect several words picked from bags full of words, cut from magazines, that started with the letters they'd scored and would then use the words to help make the poem, adding in extra words or sentences. The words in the completed poems were then found and cut from magazines (if necessary letter by letter) and pasted on black paper. None were signed, so they were like anonymous love-letters or ransom notes.

The simplest versions were drawn in chalk on pavements, like a hopscotch grid, or used a small Shoveha'penny board into which players flicked a coin or counter. This was marked out with letters or numbers and slotted in a wooden box - the letters version was used in the same way as the large scale games; in the number version players threw for the number of lines, then for the number of words in the first line, then for the number of letters in the first word, and so on until the poem was complete.

Over the years many versions of this game have been made - often by playleaders on rainy afternoons - and the simple plan given here could be adapted in almost any way. Anyone wishing advice on the construction of the large-scale versions should simply contact the Project.

Although on one level these games are directed to simple involvement in language, to the recall of words and at best the `best' word, versions of them introduce an element of making connections, of building an idea.
As writers themselves, the Project's workers have always been aware that they would have usually more time to develop their ideas than any player could be given; but however long the ruminations before or the revisions after, there has to be a period of deep concentration as the first draft is made, and the games lead the players as swiftly as possible to this point where, with a subject and a certain amount of connected information, they can get involved in the actual effort of creation.

For further information on this sort of game click on
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Windows Workshops Dave Calder, The Windows Project ,1997,1998,1999,2009