Poésie jacta est

Everything was set: the room was silent, doors shut, table cleared, under the reassuring aegis of an English-French dictionary. We were about to tackle the great yet concise art of the haiku—that Japanese poem capturing the ephemeral in three lines, an acrobatic feat of minimalism at which Paul Éluard and Jack Kerouac both tried their hands. Fortunately, Chronicle Books of California provides a useful accessory, squared in a pretty cardboard box: a set of dice like no other, with letters instead of numbers. Sixty-three melamine cubes with 366 words or blank sides, including two dice, rolled first to channel inspiration (as chance would have it, the challenge they threw up was “a vision for / our world”). It started out fine, the rolling out on the table evoking merry games of liar’s dice and four-twenty-one. Yet unforeseen obstacles soon arose for the apprentice Bashô (17th-century haiku master): false friends sowing doubt, cubes scooting beneath a corner of the cabinet (someone should write a sonnet about those concealed landscapes, where the dust of life piles up), syllables resisting mathematical constraints and children wanting to join in. Then the mind, never short of mental associations, began to drift toward Stéphane Mallarmé’s long, meandering poem, A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance, and the game was over. Reading those verses had distracted us for good.

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