The Evolution of Metaphor Dice

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.

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!

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!