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Make writing poetry simple, fun, and enlightening by rolling 12 dice to create thousands of random metaphors for further exploration.
Got writer's block? Get these writers' blocks! Make writing poetry simple, fun, and enlightening by rolling 12 dice to create thousands of random metaphors for further exploration. Delivers by November 2018.
Got writer's block? Get these writers' blocks! Make writing poetry simple, fun, and enlightening by rolling 12 dice to create thousands of random metaphors for further exploration. Delivers by November 2018.
379 backers pledged $25,744 to help bring this project to life.

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Metaphor Dice: Teach Poetry Great Again!

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  • Time is the unofficial destroyer
  • Home is a bootleg blessing
  • My father was a silent mirror
  • My soul is an unruly zoo

Most people learn that a metaphor is "a way of comparing two things," but that's a misleading description. That's like saying an automobile is "a way of consuming energy." Yes, sure, that's part of the process but hardly the most important! A metaphor can be more accurately described as a strategy for talking about one thing while MEANING SOMETHING ELSE. And the way you do that is not by setting up a comparison, but by setting up an EQUATION! An equation in which you claim two things are essentially the same thing and can be interchanged. It took me a long time to come to this realization, and even longer to figure out how to spread the news.

Two years ago I started thinking about ways I could use dice to help me teach poetry workshops. Especially for students who were afraid of being judged, the dice seemed a great way to essentially outsource some of the pressure of being creative. At first, I used the dice to generate poetry prompts, but for whatever reason most of the possible prompts ending up being pretty dark. For example, I remember assembling one prompt that encouraged you to [EXCAVATE] + [YOUR SHAMEFUL] + [NIGHTMARES]! Another roll suggested you might want to [PRIORITIZE] + [YOUR MOTHER'S] + [BROKEN PROMISES]! These prompts weren't exactly inviting or encouraging to novice writers of poetry! But soon after, I got a better idea.

I decided to use the dice solely for the generation and exploration of metaphors. The idea occurred to me when I was speaking with a reluctant student who said she considered herself more of a "math/science person." I heard myself say that a metaphor was simply an equation between two words, a way of saying "let this be equal to that, maybe modified by an adjective as a kind of variable." Her eyes lit up, and I told her it was true. Consider the following examples and see if you can see the pattern:

  • Love = a wicked game 
  • Happiness = a beautiful meadow 
  • My father = a gentle thunderstorm 
  • The wordless curse of the mind

All of them, even the last one with its reversed order, set up equations in which BIG things are equal to slightly smaller things, modified by adjectives. They all mimic the following equation:

It makes perfect sense because the essential reason people of all cultures have invented metaphors is to talk about big, abstract, or complicated ideas in new, fresh, imaginative, and understandable ways. For instance, how do you write about LOVE in an original way when the word means so many things to so many people? If you were a poet who'd been asked to recite a new poem about LOVE at a friend's wedding (as I was many years ago), you might try setting up a kind of temporary equation between LOVE and something "smaller" like OWNING A DOG so you could talk about dogs, but everyone will know you are really talking about love!

This poem COULD HAVE been written using Metaphor Dice.
This poem COULD HAVE been written using Metaphor Dice.

Back to the girl who called herself more of a math person. "In fact actually," I heard myself say as if it were something everyone knew and not an idea that I was having for the first time, "one way to write a poem if you ever have Writer's Block is to just generate a lot of metaphors and see if one strikes you as being worthy of further exploration in writing." That's when it hit me: Why isn't there a game available that could help you generate lots of different metaphors really fast?! 

Since that day two years ago, I've gone through many iterations and designs of metaphor dice, exploring six-sided, 12-sided, and even 20-sided polygons (called icosahedrons, I discovered). The very first material I used was paper, which made the dice extremely fragile and essentially disposable.

From paper shapes I moved on and experimented with metal, foam rubber, plastic, and even (briefly) stone! I tried out different colors of dice and ink but eventually settled on a 22mm standard six-sided die and a condensed font that allowed me to use 10-letter words like APOLOGETIC, UNOFFICIAL, and IMPOSSIBLE. I am happy to report that the dice are now gorgeous!

A complete set of Metaphor Dice is four red, four white, and four blue, for a total of 12 dice. The basic idea is that you roll at least one of each color, arrange them in order—red, white, and blue—and read the resulting metaphor aloud, supplying whatever smaller linking or auxiliary words you want. With an overhead projector, a teacher might need only one set for an entire class. Once the class agrees on a single metaphor to use, everyone writes for a few minutes, thinking of ways they might apply the metaphor to their own life. At the very least, everyone should try to "justify" the metaphor by sort of restating in an artful way! When each student then shares a line—and you continue going around the room until everyone has read everything they care to share—everyone will be amazed at how many different ways a metaphor can be interpreted. And then they will want to roll the dice again!

Teachers who have tried some of the earlier iterations of Metaphor Dice have reported a level of enthusiasm for writing poetry that they never knew was even possible! Brendan Constantine, a fellow poet and teacher from LA, said he arrived in class after having used the dice only once before, and his students demanded, "Where are the dice?!"

If you're still reading, you might be interested to learn that I've come close to inventing Metaphor Dice in years past because I've always been interested in playful ways to engage the imagination, jumpstart a memory, or otherwise kindle a fire in the minds of reluctant writers. Anything that might make the task of writing a poem less daunting and more fun. For example, I often start my workshops with an exercise called an exquisite corpse, which involves everyone adding only one line to a kind of "group poem." That way no one feels entirely responsible for the result if it's terrible, but everyone can feel a little pride if it turns out to be surprisingly good (which it often is)!

Then there were my Mad Lib Poetry Assignments which required students to fold worksheets in clever ways so as to "trick" them into providing imaginative answers to questions they didn't realize they were being asked. In this way, "Once I owned a one-eyed teddy bear" suddenly becomes "I was BORN in the YEAR of the one-eyed teddy bear!"

Here are some of the paper diagrams for dice that I have used in workshops I've taught for the last couple years. The one in the middle (that looks like a flattened spider) folds up into a 12-sided dodecahedron about the size of a golf ball. But I never would have guessed that the 20-sided figure on the right, which folds up into an icosahedron about the size of a baseball, would be so neat and compact when flat!

Students loved these paper dice, but they were tedious to cut out and tape together, and they never lasted more than a week or two. Ultimately I decided solid dice was the only way to go, but how does one go about manufacturing something like that? What's the first step? 

Luckily, I'd recently run into a former student of mine, Oliver Wellington, who now had his MBA and had already founded a couple of companies. Oliver and I got right to work and ordered the first round of prototypes, which were gorgeous (but extremely expensive). We started meeting once a week, ostensibly to plan our next steps, but also to unwind and talk about our kids; his son and mine were born six months apart, and our daughters are six weeks apart!

Here is one of our unsuccessful early attempts at creating a set of Metaphor Dice. The black ink seemed like a good idea at the time, as did the rounded corners!

Lastly, if you're an experienced poet, the dice can be used as a way to jumpstart your "morning pages." Here are some examples of poems written by me or one of my friends—all of us full-time, practicing poets—using a roll of the dice as a starting point. Enjoy! And thank you for reading all the way to the end!

Risks and challenges

I'm a first-time creator, so that's a huge challenge right there (or a risk, depending on your perspective). This whole process is new to me, so I'm going to make some mistakes for sure. In fact, I've ALREADY made a few. That said, I've got some partners, advisers, and helpers who have run many campaigns before.

Chinese New Year delayed the final round of prototypes, which was disappointing but ultimately predictable. Rookie mistake, I know. As a result, I have adjusted my delivery dates to be more realistic. I figure no one will care if I ship orders extremely EARLY, but some folks will get annoyed if they're even a little late. Sound about right?

Recent delays notwithstanding, I still think the Chinese manufacturer I'm working with is the right choice. The sample sets of dice they have produced for us have been better each time. Quality control will always be an issue, but we think we are right where we need to be in terms of the dice themselves.

Choosing the right WORDS for the dice has been an ongoing process but one I have enjoyed all along. Early on I was told my choices were too dark and cerebral (DEATH = AN ELDRITCH PRAYER) or else the actual words were just too darn esoteric (no one wants to stop to look up RIPARIAN in the dictionary)! It's taken me a while to appreciate how versatile an adjective like MAD can be.

Other challenges include the design and manufacture of the box as well as finalizing the instructions, which keep changing as we discover new ways to use the dice. In fact, we are still looking for great ways the dice can be used so leave a comment with your suggestions!

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    1 Set Metaphor Dice (EARLY BIRDS!)

    (1EB) EARLY BIRD SPECIAL! Get a set of Metaphor Dice delivered AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE, perhaps even before mid June 2018! These sets come from the final round of samples and are the best we've ever produced!

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    (1W) One set (and only one set) of Metaphor Dice delivered by November 2018 to you anywhere in the world. If you want two or three sets, look at the next two tiers for those options. This set will come in a small padded mailer weighing approximately 300 grams. Shipping charges are $5 to the USA, $15 to Canada/Mexico, and $23 to the rest of the world. INTERNATIONAL BACKERS TAKE NOTE: Although the cost of shipping is surprisingly high, note that THERE IS NO INCREASE IN COST for shipping two sets (or even three)! Lastly, the value of this package is low enough that it will probably be FREE of VAT charges, but we can't make any guarantees so buyer beware! (If you do not see your location listed as an available location, contact us and we will add it).

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    (2W) Two sets (and only two sets) of Metaphor Dice for $18 each delivered by November 2018 to you anywhere in the world. If you want three sets, look at the next tier for that option. This package will be a small padded mailer weighing approximately 600 grams. Shipping charges are $8 to the USA, $15 to Canada/Mexico, and $23 to the rest of the world. INTERNATIONAL BACKERS TAKE NOTE: Although the cost of shipping is surprisingly high, note that THERE IS NO INCREASE IN COST for shipping two sets (or even three)! Lastly, the value of this package is such that VAT charges MAY be incurred, so buyer beware! (If you do not see your location listed as an available location, contact us and we will add it).

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    (2D) Two sets of Metaphor Dice plus a signed and beautifully printed letterpress broadside of "How Falling in Love is like Owning a Dog," a love poem by Taylor Mali that very well could have been written using Metaphor Dice™ (except that its writing predates their invention by 20 years).

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    (3W) Three sets (and only three sets) of Metaphor Dice for $17 each delivered by November 2018 to you anywhere in the world. This package will be a medium padded mailer weighing approximately 900 grams. Shipping charges are $8 to the USA, $15 to Canada/Mexico, and $23 to the rest of the world. NOTE FOR INTERNATIONAL BACKERS: Although the cost of shipping is surprisingly high, note that THERE IS NO INCREASE IN COST for shipping three sets! However, the value of this package is such that VAT charges WILL LIKELY be incurred, so buyer beware! (If you do not see your location listed as an available location, contact us and we will add it).

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    (5EB) EARLY BIRD SPECIAL! Get five sets of Metaphor Dice (for $16.00 each!) delivered AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE, perhaps even before mid June 2018! These sets come from the final round of samples and are the best we've ever produced!

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    20-Set Teacher Pack (EARLY BIRDS!)

    (20EB) EARLY BIRD SPECIAL! Get 20 sets of Metaphor Dice (for $14.95 each!) delivered AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE, perhaps even before mid June 2018! These sets come from the final round of samples and are the best we've ever produced!

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    GOLDEN BACKER LEVEL

    (GBL) Backers at this level will be able to arrange to have teacher/poet Taylor Mali, the inventor of Metaphor Dice, come to the school, festival, clambake, rodeo, or dinner party of their choice for some combination of poetry readings, workshops, or demonstrations of how Metaphor Dice can be used (includes at LEAST 50 free sets)! Specific arrangements will need to be cleared with Taylor.

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- (32 days)