A hundred years ago, the French avant-garde poet Blaise Cendrars proclaimed that “la poésie est en jeu.”1 Although the line declares that “poetry is at stake,” Cendrars also suggests a poem is a kind of game (“jeu”), a form of play. The idea that poetry and play are intimately connected has a very long history, but this linkage moves to the forefront during the twentieth century, as the use of word games, constraints, chance methods, generative processes, performative projects, collaborative writing, hoaxes, and other project-based or playful compositional practices become central tools for a wide range of avant-garde writers and artists. What is at stake in such practices, in such ludic approaches to poetic composition, and why are they so much with us today?

Indeed, such “poetry games” seem to be everywhere in recent years. The notion of poetry as a game or project—in which the writer devises an...

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