In the first part of this two-part essay, I laid out my approach to writing poetry inspired by video games. If those three criteria felt too prescriptive for your tastes, then by all means, please use them as inspiration to rebel! Personally, I find the criteria open-ended enough to allow a multitude of outcomes. In this second part, I’ll use two of my gaming poems, one free verse and one formal structure, to illustrate the approach in action and how it helped me produce two vastly different results.
My poems “Lava Reef Cooldown” and “The Deku Butler’s Son,” both published here at Sidequest, each focus on a minor moment from two of my favorite video games, Sonic 3 & Knuckles and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, respectively. And I applied my criteria from part one of this essay while writing each poem. That’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Let’s take a closer look.

I wrote “Lava Reef Cooldown” in free verse with minimal punctuation and capitalization, with uneven line lengths arranged in a single stanza. It mentions the source level by name (“your temper, like Lava Reef Zone Act 1”), although not the game title—enough for most gamers to be able to identify the reference and for a quick online search to fill in any gaps. It focuses on a brief moment of transition in the game, where a fiery lava level solidifies into black rock leading to a crystalline cave. The music and color scheme change, and with them, the whole ambiance (“magma singing the blues / and indigos and aquas”). I paired those sensations with a common experience that gamers and non-gamers alike could understand: the moment when tempers cool from the heat of an argument (“our words of ruthless rock, tyrant lava / I hold my breath for our cooldown to Act 2”).

For “The Deku Butler’s Son,” I used rhymed couplets of iambic hexameter (or six pairs of two syllables, the first one unstressed and the second one stressed) with a single-word refrain (except when it joins the final couplet for thematic purposes). I tried a technique I only occasionally use, brainstorming a list of words I associate with the subject matter. I paired up rhyming words on the list (such as “leaves” and “grieves”) and used them as the foundation for the formal structure. For the content, I described an image that anyone who completed the game might recall (“The Deku Butler comes to mourn / his son, that tragic tree husk, woodface topped with leaves”), and some key terms I included (such as “Deku pipes”) should help orient others. I related the game’s themes of masks, transformation, and healing to issues of social equity and immigration (“We’ve worn / his face, embodied him, a hapless, stunted shrub. / We came into this land reduced into a scrub, / alone.”), which I tried to include in such a way that readers may still bring their own interpretations into the mix.

Side-by-side screenshots show Sonic & Knuckles Lava Reef Zone Act 2, and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask with the Deku Butler kneeling in front of his son.

As you can see, I relied on different structures, processes, and themes for each of these poems. However, I aimed for each to reflect my interests and obsessions, to get at that elusive concept of authorial voice. I suppose that’s one more similarity they share.

What I choose to curate and archive through this type of pop culture ekphrastic poetry will differ from what other poets choose, from what you will, perhaps, decide to craft and commit to the page. I hope my experience sparks some ideas for others. The worlds contained within poetry and within video games teem with rich images and ideas, and where they overlap, we as audience and collaborators prosper.

Read more of the Game Enjambment series.