Word Toys For Poets - No. 1: The 3D Tetrahedral Poetry Engine | Articles | Ant Smith
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Word Toys For Poets - No. 1: The 3D Tetrahedral Poetry Engine

Word Toys For Poets - No. 1: The 3D Tetrahedral Poetry Engine
Wednesday 31st August 2016 10:01pm

Since poetry is inextricably linked to the human condition I spent some time thinking about the core drivers of a society: Politics, Religion, Science and the Arts. That led to the creation of this simple tetrahedron pattern:

you can print this out and make a very handsome 3D model!

As soon as I'd placed the ideas onto a solid shape I was drawn to consider the edges, and to consider what is it that happens on the interface of say Science and Divinity. I was reminded of Einstein's famous quote (that god does not play dice) and it occurred to me that this is where our Philosophies arise. Similarly between politics and the Arts I considered that our capacity for propaganda arose. And so finally I arrived at the vertices, the places where three of the four concerns would collide - and I came to consider the nature of the societies that arise where one of the four core concerns are subjugated; e.g. it seemed to me that utopias arise when we value Science, The Arts and Divinity whilst suppressing politics...

You may or may not agree with the thinking that this simple solid inspired for me - but the fact is by placing words onto a simple solid form I found I had created a device for exploring language. In this case the four faces of the tetrahedron gave me 12 separate edges and four vertices, a total of 20 different regions in which I could explore the interplay of words, and thus concepts.

So I wondered what would happen if, instead of working with a simple 4 faced tetrahedron, I made a solid star from connected tetrahedra - with a total of 24 faces and a whopping 72 edges...

Whereas my original design was a device for contemplating high order concepts, a complex shape such as I now planned was capable of playing with word orders. I realised that if the shape's pattern was traversed in a defined order it's implicit symmetry would give rise to formal language constructions; just as we do when applying classic poetry formats. By colouring the edges in one of two colours I could differentiate, in fact generate, ABAB or AABB rhyme patterns IF I used suitable word lists for each colour. The shared edge of two faces could generate a rhyming couplet.Of course I would need a large number of rhyming words (36 in each of the two word lists). So I chose -fy words and -ation words and created my design thus: 

(Again you can print this template out and make your own version of my word toy. If you'd like the original PhotoShop file so that you can change the words used just drop me an e-mail: me@antsmith.net - but ideally your e-mail will be fascinating).

I used some editorial judgement to decide which word pairs would appear together on a shared edge, e.g. Occupy and Pacify, or Mutation and Salvation. Although the assembled toy can be traversed in any order the player likes, the proximity between words has a leading effect. 

There are endless variations possible, not only by varying the word lists but also by using tricolour faces (for ABCABC type rhyme schemes); or by employing different types of solids for greater complexity. The two key features of the device are:
  1. Tactility: holding, spinning, throwing, sharing all promote a different way of playing with words than simple lists
  2. Proximity: words falling together on faces or down edges promote 'creative affinity'
I call it a 'Poetry Engine' but that's actually a slight conceit, really it is just a delightful word toy... 

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