University professor schools us on writing good video game poetry

You don’t have to have college-level experience to write good poetry — just a video game that makes you think.

B.J. Best, an assistant professor at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wis., knows a thing or two about poetry. He’s published two books full of it called Birds of Wisconsin and State Sonnets. Unlike a lot of academics, he’s also gamer, and he even claims to have beaten Super Mario Bros. on a pontoon boat — with an actual television and Nintendo Entertainment System. This is probably a feat you could only attribute to him.

But Our Princess Is in Another Castle is Best’s third self-authored poetry book, which debuts in March for $14.95. These are prose poems, whose paragraph-style makes them even more accessible to general audiences. While they’re entirely about video games, they’re not full of gaming lingo. That can be hard to parse for readers who aren’t entrenched in the appropriate genres.

“For me, the critical idea is that the poems are not directly about the video games; rather, the games and their details provide points of departure for talking about other, nondigital aspects of life,” Best told GamesBeat, explaining why you could hear one of his poems and never guess that it was about a video game like Golden Axe or Asteroids. “As I was writing the book, I tried to remain very cognizant that many readers might not have played the particular game that inspired a poem, so I needed to make sure the poem still appealed to them. Those who know the games will find familiar details from them in the poems, but they’re usually included in brief, sidelong ways.”

Best chose to follow the adage “write what you know,” looking to classic video games rather than new ones since they better represent his ’80s childhood. As it happens, they’re a lot easier to write about, too.

“They’re much smaller, easier to conceptualize, and, frankly, weirder in a way that encourages exploration,” he said. “I think it’d be much harder to write about a contemporary first-person shooter, for example, because they’re very lifelike and so much of the story is given to you — it’d be hard for me to pick only the details I need and then make the material my own.”



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