(Poem #869) Scrabble
We used to pride ourselves on the words we knew. The dictionary sat beside us but was seldom consulted. I'm amazed when I think now of how few words we actually used to talk, that final game we played over and over. Our vocabularies froze, it was as though we were down to our last rack of letters, board space was limited to tight corners or tricky gaps, and the time limit, set so long ago when time seemed endless, ticked softly to its end.
From "River Architecture: Poems from here and there, 1974-1984" Published by the Cynic Press, 1999. If Donne could find his conceits in Elizabethan staples such as astronomy and alchemy, why should not a contemporary poet take his symbolism from the game of Scrabble? Indeed, as conceits go, McKee's is rather a good one: as anybody who's played Scrabble can attest, the possibilities when the game opens are limitless, bingo lines and bonus squares enticing, tempting, beckoning... equally, though, there are times when the board becomes impossibly congested, words already played constricting, choking, cutting off avenues of communication, letters on racks offering hopelessly few options as the clock ticks inexorably down... an ebb and flow that accurately reflects the tensions that inhabit many relationships. This is McKee's extended metaphor, and a lovely one it is, too. thomas. [Afterthought] Of course it's possible to take this sort of thing entirely too seriously; see, for instance, [broken link] http://www.clas.ufl.edu/ipsa/journal/articles/psyart1999/scrabblit/willbe01. htm for a scholarly article that treats the game of Scrabble as "a poem-in-progress: a text at cross-purposes ... simultaneously co-produced and co-read [by] opponents [who] are also partners" [sic]. Herewith, a far too generous extract: "Each advancing letter takes a step toward development while it reduces the available field. Each formed word both encourages and limits potential neighboring words. As players build words -- constructing a shared text within a competitive and cooperative relation -- the issue becomes one of context: What does the current construction enable and/or limit? Beyond the immediate, contiguous contextuality of possible linguistic permutations are the larger contextual limitations of convention and decorum (proper usage), and the still larger bounds of national discourse (English or American usage), and the largest bounds of sense (patriarchal usage?) and nonsense (un autre écriture?). In brief, the Scrabble game enacts an allegory of language acquisition and development within a maturing field of limit and desire ... "... my adult, academic relation to language rests on and derives from my childhood, and a particular kind of childhood play. As I reconfigure the event, playing SCRABBLE with my mother represents and reanimates a potential space of linguistic co-production between mother and child (see Winnicott 1971, 1-28; 95-110). It's a later developmental model, or high-level, sublimated scene of earlier primordial relationships, such as reading with mother and being read to by mother. On the foundational ground of a semiotic orchestration of language (the Kristevan chora), the newly literate child learns the powers and limits of a semantic or syntactic organization of language (see Kristeva 1974). From an arbitrary parataxis of discrete letters resting in potentia side by side (in a wooden frame, or in an alphabet), he or she arranges a lexical syntaxis of singular meaning within the delimited field of play." -- David Willbern, "Playing Scrabble with my Mother", in PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for Psychological Study of the Arts