The Abracadabra: A New Poetry Game

I invented this game during Paul Violi’s poetry workshop “Romantic Rebellion.” Two examples of the Abracadabra—“Four Reviews” and “Four School Subjects”—are presented below. Read the rules, check it out, and play along!


The player chooses a general topic and four subjects within the topic (e.g. Critical Reviews: Theatre, Book, Food, Film and School Subjects: Math, History, English, Science.)

The player writes four poems—one for each subject (these together make the Abracadabra.)

The poems are written in Dactylic meter—each foot has three beats: Stressed, unstressed, unstressed. ONE, two, three, ONE, two, three. It’s like waltzing. (NOTE: This rule can be broken. If you find a meter better suited to your purposes, you must use that one.)

The rhyme scheme is ABCB. You may write as many quatrains as necessary—but less is more!

The player must use each letter of the alphabet in order throughout each of the four poems. You do not have to use one letter per line, only in order.

In the A-Z words, you may not use the same word twice in the Abracadabra. (This rule can be bent. For example, using “X” to mean “crossing out” is not the same as using “X-” as the prefix for “X-axis.” But try and stay diverse.

* Editor’s note: Click MORE to view Luke’s poems and play along – leave your magic poems in the comments box.  Have fun!



Julie Sheehan reciting “The Song of Wandering Aengus” by W. B. Yeats.

Justin Taylor reading “I See Tiny Mouths” by Anthony McCann from the Agriculture Reader.

Amy Berkowitz reads a poem from Ish Klein’s new book UNION!

“They might wax about the versatility of a deck bucket or of romance in rubber boots, but they also describe a livelihood that can kill those who pursue it.” —From an article in the New York Times about fisherman poets.


flagI can’t stop checking out this blog … daily!

A poem is posted each and every day, for the first 100 days, President Barack Obama is in office.On this blog you can read poems by: Mark Bibbins, Cate Marvin, Major Jackson, Matthew Zapruder, and so many more very talented and inspiring writers.

Gary Clark reading “An Appearance in New Hampshire” from Rivendell Vol. 1 No. 2

Ish Klein reads “The Phases,” from her new book UNION! to Bernadette.

Mathias Svalina reading from Julie Doxsee’s book Undersleep

Kim Addonizio reads “Ex-Boyfriends.”

Blake Butler and Daniel Bailey read “Catalogue Entry for Aging” from Someone Else’s Body by Claire Donato.

Puppet reading “I’M READY, ARE YOU? – 23 (Truth or Consequences)” by Leigh Stein.

For more information on New School University-Sponsored Sock Puppets, please click here.

Officially, there have been four: Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Miller Williams, and Elizabeth Alexander.

Frost recited The Gift Outright from memory at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. It’s a poem about place as identity, and a nationalism that comes from possession, from staking claims on what belongs to us because we bled for it. It is not a poem that acknowledges anyone who lived upon this land before the European colonists.

Bill Clinton had a poet at each of his inaugurations. Maya Angelou read On the Pulse of Morning, a poem that gathers all of Frost’s forgotten creeds and races and invites them to a “Tree planted by a River/which will not be moved.” It ends:

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning

I like Miller Williams’s Of History and Hope, read at Clinton’s second inauguration, not just because I’m a sucker for messages about what we will leave for our children, but also because it acknowledges a complicated national history that we are a part of whenever we make a pledge or sing an anthem:

We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where.
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.

I like the thud of reckoning there.

When Elizabeth Alexander read at Barack Obama’s inauguration, she arguably had the largest audience that poetry has ever, or will ever, have. “This is like, poetry goes to Hollywood, poetry makes a movie,” said poet Tony Hoagland. Was I moved or inspired? Not really. I felt like it was a poem for the Joe Plumbers, a revival of the same cliches that drove everyone crazy during debate season: struggle, safety, “something better down the road.”

My favorite inaugural poem is the one that was read the night before Jimmy Carter’s inauguration: The Strength of Fields by James Dickey. In it, Dickey gives us the message of all the poets who had come before him, and all who would come after: we are a nation of many different people; let us be united, let us look each other in the eye. But he does it with unparalleled power, grace, and mystery. The poem concludes:

Lord, let me shake
With purpose.    Wild hope can always spring
From tended strength.    Everything is in that.
That and nothing but kindness.    More kindness, dear Lord
Of the renewing green.    That is where it all has to start:
With the simplest things. More kindness will do nothing less
Than save every sleeping one
And night-walking one

Of us.
My life belongs to the world. I will do what I can.

Next Page »