A Scrabble-Tile Poem

Mike Keith
Jan. 2000

 

 

Each tercet (three lines of iambic pentameter with ABA rhyme scheme) in the poem below is formed from the set of 100 Scrabble tiles, which consist of 98 letters (including all letters A-Z) plus two blank "wildcards" that can be assigned any letter. The poem is visually depicted using six sets of Scrabble tiles, where the two blanks in each set are indicated by red tiles. In this challenge we deem it quite permissable to use different letters for the blanks in each separate set of tiles (each stanza).

In this depiction, each line of iambic pentameter is split in two in order to keep the page from being too wide. In other words, the first line of the poem is really "Through sentient, gauzy flame I view life's dread".

Should you prefer the poem in normal text, with punctuation, here it is:

Through sentient, gauzy flame I view life's dread,
quixotic, partial joke. We're vapour-born,
by logic and emotion seen as dead.

Plain cording weds great luxury ornate,
while moon-beams rise to die in Jove's quick day;
I navigate the puzzle-board of fate.

Wait! Squeeze one hundred labels into jibes,
grip clay and ink to form your topic - rage;
await the vexing mandate of our lives.

I rush on, firm, to raid my aged tools,
but yet I touch an eerie, vain, blank piece,
as oxide grown among life's quartz-paved jewels.

Once zealous Bartlebooth, a timid knave,
portrayed grief's calm upon a jigsaw round;
yet now he lies, fixed quiet in his grave.

Just so we daily beam our pain-vexed soul
with fiery craze to aim large, broken core
and quest in vain to find the gaping hole.

Who is "Bartlebooth", you might ask? Ah, this strikes at the very core of the poem. Bartlebooth is the jigsaw-puzzling main character of Georges Perec's massive constrained novel "La Vie mode d'emploi" ("Life A User's Manual"). Perec's novel consists of 100 chapters with one blank (missing), modeled after a Paris apartment building with 100 rooms. The theme of missing things constantly reappears (e.g., Bartlebooth dies as the puzzle he is working on has a single piece-shaped hole.)

Scrabble has 100 tiles with two blanks, an almost exact replica of the structure of Perec's novel. Hence the desire to allude to "La Vie" in stanzas 4 ("blank piece"), 5 (Bartlebooth and his puzzles), and 6 ("gaping hole"). "Puzzle-board" of stanza two is also a reference - to the 10x10 knight's tour involved in Perec's work.