Playing Poetry

Poetry Games

An Exhibition by Playing Poetry

National Poetry Library
21st October – 15th January
Tue 12 – 6pm, Wed – Sun 12 – 8pm

Poetry Games, at the National Poetry Library (Southbank Centre), ran from October 21st 2022 to January 15th 2023. Inviting eighteen poets, artists and game-makers from the UK and beyond to exhibit their innovative work, the exhibition presented a selection of interactive poem pieces from landscapes composed of shifting text, to poetry platformers, to lyrical travelogues of virtual spaces.

Exhibiting Artists

by John Stone

Erratum is an in-progress top-down game about stealing language in order to speak. Playing as a stealthy, rat-like figure, you must sneak up close to people, overhear their mutterings, and then assemble the stolen pieces into micro-poems in order to discover your own identity.

Jon Stone is a Derbyshire-born writer, editor and researcher. He co-edited Roll Again: A Book of Games to Play and Coin Opera 2: Fulminare’s Revenge (both Sidekick Books) and is the author of Dual Wield: The Interplay of Poetry and Video Games (DeGruyter, 2022). He won a Society of Authors Eric Gregory Award in 2012 and teaches at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge.

Poetry Jenga
by Astra Papachristodolou

Poetry Jenga is an object poem that encourages audiences to explore the unpredictability of collaging by creating endless poetic sequences. Players take turns to take out wooden blocks from the tower, read the blocks’ inscriptions and place them on top of each other resulting in an ever-growing but unsteady tower.

Astra Papachristodoulou is a PhD researcher and tutor at the University of Surrey. Her practice-based doctoral project at Surrey is funded by the Doctoral College Studentship Award and explores sculptural poetics as a revolutionary act in the context of the Anthropocene. Her latest book is Constellations (Guillemot Press, 2022).

Émile Et Moi
by Phillipe Grenon

Émile et Moi is a platforming video game that writes poems. The words that appear on the platforms are not chosen at random. In its original version, Émile et Moi compiles more than 200 old poems, all in French, from Quebec and uses generative grammar to choose possibilities among the vocabulary of the texts in memory.

Philippe Grenon is a video programmer from Quebec and creative coder who believes in the expressivity of video games and code. After an M.A. in History from McGill University, he started learning to code and has since made that his profession. Philippe makes experimental video games that try to blur the line between art and games.

If We Were Allowed to Visit
by Ian MacLarty & Gemma Mahadeo

If We Were Allowed To Visit is an anthology of poems by Gemma Mahadeo rendered by Ian MacLarty. As you move through the game’s environment, the poems are rearranged into the shapes of the objects they describe, each frame becoming a new generative poem.

Ian MacLarty is a videogame developer living in Melbourne with an interest in experimental designs. He’s released lots of smaller non-commercial works and self-published several award-winning commercial games. He has a background in computer science and enjoys tinkering with self-made tools and generative techniques.

Gemma Mahadeo is a Melbourne-based writer whose work has appeared both online and in print, internationally and locally. They write mainly poetry and creative non-fiction, sometimes play music, and occasionally do work in disability advocacy and activism.

by Thomas Pearson

Pyramid is a version of Nine Men’s Morris, set within one of the dream-structures of the 1499 text Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. The pieces denote internal rooms, with lines of poetry on the counters giving details of their design. The layout and character of the building are continually reconfigured as the game progresses.

Thomas Pearson is an artist, poet and architectural conservationist from the north-east of England. His work concerns history, buildings and places.

Rock, Star, North.
by Calum Rodger

Rock, Star, North. is a poetic travelogue set in the Grand Theft Auto V universe, influenced by Basho, Wordsworth and Nan Shepherd, and based on the poet’s idiosyncratic journey through the game-world in pursuit of the ‘virtual sublime’.

Calum Rodger is a Glasgow-based poet working in print, performance and digital media. He is often preoccupied with the interfaces between poetry and gaming, the fruits of which include include PORTS – classic twentieth-century poems reimagined as videogame instructions (SPAM Press, 2019) – and fiat ontology: a ‘pataphysical proteus walkthrough (digit press, 2019). He also makes poetic browser games. A former Scottish Slam Champion with a PhD in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow, Rodger recently retrained as a software developer, in which capacity he now works for publishers DC Thomson.

by Abigail Parry & Jon Stone

Adversary is a prototype card game in which players duel to complete couplets and quatrains in the most satisfying way. Each player is dealt six cards from the main deck, and uses these to compose one or two lines of poetry matching the metre of a prompt card. This set contains prompts/decks for composing the opening lines of a murder ballad and the first couplet of an aubade or serenade.

Abigail Parry spent seven years as a toymaker before completing her doctoral thesis on wordplay. Her poems have been set to music, translated into Spanish and Japanese, broadcast on BBC and RTÉ Radio, and widely published in journals and anthologies. She has won a number of prizes and awards for her work, including the Ballymaloe Prize, the Troubadour Prize, and an Eric Gregory Award. Her first collection, Jinx, published by Bloodaxe Books in 2018, was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2018 and the Seamus Heaney Centre First Collection Poetry Prize 2019. Her second collection, I Think We’re Alone Now, is published by Bloodaxe Books in 2023.

by Matt Martin

To read one of these polyhedral object-poems, start on any of its twenty faces, then move any adjacent face, continuing around the surface, reading out words on the way. This procedure generates a quasi-grammatical, potentially endless sentence.

Matt Martin was recently Stuart Hall Research Scholar at Birkbeck, University of London, completing his PhD on the poets Kamau Brathwaite and Bill Griffiths. His poetry collections include Full Spectrum Apotheosis (Contraband Books, 2013), The Dotted Line (Gang Press, 2019), and Frequently Asked Questions (Kater Murr’s Press, 2021).

Phonetic Spiritboard
by Luke Thompson

Using phonemes instead of letters, this Ouija board was developed for sound poetry games and performances. It works exactly like a normal Ouija and produces a text of sounds to be navigated or interpreted by the performers. The phonemes have been laser-printed into wood board.

Luke Thompson is a writer and publisher from Cornwall, whose writing includes the poetry collection Singing About Melon (Shearsman, 2020), the non-fiction title Rhinoceros (Broken Sleep, 2020) and the edited Treasures of Cornwall (Macmillan, 2023). Luke is co-editor of Guillemot Press.

The Amazing Push Poem Machine
by The Windows Project

The Amazing Push Poem Machine has captured imaginations at festivals, conferences and play schemes since 1976. Combining skill and chance, players throw a ball to get a letter and add a word beginning with that letter to the ongoing communal poem.

The Windows Project was created by poets Dave Calder and Dave Ward in 1976. The Amazing Push Poem Machine was made in response to an invitation from Dave Rickus at Merseyside Play Action Council to run poetry workshops on play schemes. The game was given its distinctive fairground-style name by Carol Ann Duffy. Calder and Ward went on to set up The Windows Project, running game-based writing workshops in community venues ever since.

The Amazing Push Poem Machine Card Game
by The Windows Project

Translated from the large scale interactive object (seen elsewhere in the exhibition), The Amazing Push Poem Machine card game serves as both restaging and documentation of the original work. As cards are revealed, previously created poems are discovered, as well as historical facts about the poem’s various iterations over the years. The game was given its distinctive fairground-style name by Carol Ann Duffy.

The Windows Project was created by widely published poets Dave Calder and Dave Ward in 1976. The Amazing Push Poem Machine was made in response to an invitation from Dave Rickus at Merseyside Play Action Council to run poetry workshops on play schemes. The game was given its distinctive fairground-style name by Carol Ann Duffy. Calder and Ward went on to set up The Windows Project, running game-based writing workshops in community venues ever since.

My Mother's House
by Victoria Bennett & Adam Clarke

My Mother’s House, is a poem-world built in Minecraft, explores the personal experience of bereavement and terminal illness through a playable poem based in Minecraft. This collaborative project was funded by The Writing Platform to look at how literature and new technologies can work together. My Mother’s House was featured in The Guardian, and on Gimlet Podcast, NYC, and was chosen in the Top 5 Minecraft Maps 2016.

Victoria Bennett is a writer, poet and creative producer. She founded Wild Women Press in 1999 and has spent the last 21 years facilitating creative experiences and curating platforms for women to share ideas, stories, inspirations and actions for positive change. Previous awards include the Northern Debut Award for non-fiction (2020), the the Mother’s Milk Writing Prize (2017), The Writing Platform Digital Literature Bursary (2015), Northern Promise Award for Poetry (2002), and the Waterhouse Award for Poetry (2002).

Adam Clarke is a leading Minecraft artist and digital producer, responsible for some of the most innovative Minecraft projects in the world. Originally training as an illustrator, Adam has over twenty-five years experience as an artist, producer, and visual storyteller. His work includes high-profile collaborations with Tate Britain, Artichoke Trust, The Space, Guardian Newspapers, United for Wildlife, Disney and much more. He produces an online YouTube Channel and also starred as Wizard Keen, collaborating in Stampy’s Minecraft educational series Wonder Quest.