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The 3x3x3, an experimental poetry form

Updated on October 13, 2010

This article first appeared in the print edition of Scifaikuest in May 2009 before being reprinted here by the author.

The threesome is a poetic form developed by Shelly Bryant. This article is reprinted here in hopes that more poets will choose to try their hand at the form.

The 3x3x3

The 3x3x3 is an experimental minimalist poetic form. It incorporates ideas from East Asian poetry, and is structured in a way similar to the Japanese Sudoku puzzle now enjoying popularity worldwide.


A 3x3x3 is connected to the Sudoku in its use of three boxes of nine elements, with the elements being juggled in each box. In the 3x3x3, the “box” is actually the stanza. Each of the three stanzas contains three lines, and each line contains three words. This structure gives the form its name. In each stanza, the words are reordered in such a way that no word appears in the same “column” twice, just like a Sudoku puzzle.


The 3x3x3's similarity with Japanese and Chinese poetry lies in the absence of any indicators marking the pauses in an oral reading of the poem. Part of the trick the reader faces, then, is determining where to pause so that the poem will make sense.

A Sample 3x3x3x

Here is how it works with the following 3x3x3:


Conflict


cyborg master forces

robotic slave submission

might makes right


slave forces might

master right cyborg

makes submission robotic


submission might master

forces robotic slave

right cyborg makes


The pauses in this poem would work like this:


Cyborg master forces robotic slave submission. Might makes right.

Slave forces might master. Right cyborg makes submission robotic.

Submission might master forces. Robotic slave right cyborg makes.



When put into this prose form, punctuated to indicate pauses, a sort of sense begins to emerge, though it is not readily evident when first viewing the poem.


The trick to writing a successful 3x3x3 lies in finding words that can serve as more than one part of speech. For instance, “slave” is used in the poem as an adjective in each of the first two stanzas, a noun in the third, and could potentially serve as a verb as well. “Master” is used first as a noun, then twice as a verb, and so forth. Using words in this way is part of the fun of a 3x3x3.


Writing a successful 3x3x3 is no easy endeavor. Not only does it require choosing the best words, but it also means that the poet must be resourceful in rearranging the words, seeking to use them to their fullest potential.


For the scifaijin, this experimental form is one more option by which elements common to East Asian poetic forms (and their English derivatives) may be explored.


© 2009 Shelly Bryant
 
 

Give it a Try

The 3x3x3 is simple on its surface, but actually quite challenging to write. Why not try your hand at writing a threesome? If you post yours online, feel free to leave a link in the comments section below so that other readers can stop by for a look.

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