What is the Poetry Game?

The Poetry Game is an interactive, non-competitive word game that makes it easy and fun to write a poem. The game is a deck of cards, in a beautifully designed box, complete with instructions for play with groups from two to eight. No prior experience writing poetry is required – the game works for people new to poetry as well as experienced writers. The game is appropriate for players from age 10 to adult, and can be played in communities, schools, nonprofits, senior centers, homes and other venues. The game makes a wonderful gift.

What are the different versions of the game?

The standard version is played entirely in English. The language versions  — currently Spanish, Yiddish, and Arabic — can be played by people who do not know the languages, language learners, or fluent speakers. The language games foster fun word play and learning about other languages and cultures. The instructions included in the box for all games are in English, and we have also have downloadable Spanish and Arabic instructions.

Our K-12 version for educators can be downloaded for free and printed, and comes with an adaptable lesson plan. Contact us here for the free Educators’ resources.

How do I buy a this amazing game?

Currently, you can buy it from Indiegogo. Although the initial campaign is over, you can still buy it there. Soon, you’ll also be able to buy it at Amazon. We’ll post an update here when it is on Amazon.

If you want to purchase bulk copies and/or custom decks, email [email protected]rg.

How do I get a free version I can use in my classroom?

The free version for educators, lessons plans, poems for use in class are available for all educators. Contact us for free resources for Educators.

I’m a journalist and would like to do a story on the Poetry Game. Who do I talk to, and what is media-worthy about this Project?

We’d love to help. Contact Chief Poetic Officer Zahara Heckscher, [email protected], 202-489-8908, cell. Zahara would be happy to invite you to an upcoming event. She can speak on the following themes or other topics:

  • Teaching Poetry in an Era of the Common Core Standards
  • Arabic Poetry for Jewish Groups
  • Poetry Against Xenophobia  
  • Profile: Entrepreneurship with a Twist: Starting a New Business while on Chemo.

What is the Poetry Game Project organization?

The Poetry Game Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making the world a better place through fun and interactive wordplay, one game at a time, through

  1. An Innovative Product. We create and distribute different versions of the Poetry Game, a beautiful and innovative card game, currently available in English, Yiddish, Arabic, Spanish, and Educator’s versions. Buy it.
  2. Interactive Workshops. We offer interactive, collaborative workshops to bring the Poetry Game to schools, faith communities, adult education programs, and senior centers. Learn more about workshops. 
  3. Specialized Training. We train faith community members, educators, poets, and others to adapt the poetry game. For example, we train educators to use the Poetry Game in their classrooms for to meet educational goals, from common core standards, to language learning, to establishing a positive and collaborative classroom environment. Learn about our teacher and facilitator trainings.

The Poetry Game Project is a fiscally sponsored project of the Washington Peace Center. That means donations to the project are tax deductible. We have super-slim overhead so donations power programs.

Tell me more about the workshops and trainings. Can you come to my class, faith community, nonprofit, or company and offer a fabulous workshop about the Poetry Game? Can you train a group of educators at my school to adapt the Poetry Game for their classrooms?

Yes, the Poetry Game team (usually Zahara Heckscher) will come to your classroom and offer a 1-2 hour workshop that meets your educational goals. Past workshops include

Afterschool, 4th grade, African American Inventors theme MOMIES Enrighment program. Student begin by reading a poem about an African American inventors, unlocking prizes along the way, then play a special version of the poetry game that links to inventor themes.

Yiddish Poetry Game for Jewish Study Center. 1 hour workshop for intergenerational group ages 12-80, for participants ranging from no Yiddish to fluent speakers.

Arabic Poetry Game, Arabic Summer Language Institute, University of Maryland. 90 minute workshop for students ranging from beginners to fluent speakers, including presentation of a poem in Arabic, discussion of the role of poetry in the Arabic speaking world, and writing poems with special Arabic words.

Upcoming: Sponsored by the Havurah Institute Innovation Fund, we will train a group of about 15 people to facilitate Yiddish Poetry Game workshops in their communities. More upcoming events.

Cost: We work within your budget, and have funding to offer scholarships to public schools and nonprofits to make the workshops free or affordable.

What are your upcoming events?

See our events page. Link to PoetryGame.org/WorkshopsAndEvents

Are you a non-profit organization? Are donations tax deductible?

Yes, we are a nonprofit. We are a fiscally sponsored project of the Washington Peace Center. That means the Poetry Game Project has 501c3 status. Donations are tax deductible.

I love what you are doing, Poetry Game Project People. How do I donate to help your work reach even more people?

Thank you. We love you too. Donate here, or you can mail donations made out to “Poetry Game Project” to

Poetry Game Project
3711 Macomb St NW
Washington, DC 20016

Donations from foundations should be made via our fiscal sponsor, the Washington Peace Center. Those donations should be made payable to “Washington Peace Center” with “Poetry Game Project” in the memo field.

Poetry Game Project
c/o Washington Peace Center
1525 Newton St NW, Washington, DC 20010
[email protected]

You will automatically get a receipt for your donation. If you need a different receipt or letter for tax purposes, [email protected].

Note that if you buy copies of the Poetry Game, a fraction of your payment ($15 per game purchased) is not deductible.

If you did a Ted Talk about the Poetry Game Project, what would be the theme?

Wow, thank you for asking. Zahara Heckscher would be honored to do a Ted Talk. Just contact her at [email protected]. The theme would be “The Secret of Creativity is Constraint, Not Freedom.” The Ted Talk would tell the story of how we at the Poetry Game Project have learned that it is constraint, or limitation, that fosters creativity. In fact, the game works like magic because it fosters a dance between constraint and freedom. This learning has wide application, from how we teach writing to scientific exploration and entrepreneurial progress.

Who owns your intellectual property?

For intellectual property information, [email protected].

Who had creative input into this game?

The concept for The Poetry Game was invented by a group of friends in Mt. Pleasant, DC. Zahara Heckscher and others developed it at workshops and parties. This version was created in the class “Inventing and Designing a Poetry Game” at the University of Maryland by Ryan Serrano (Game Designer & Producer), Wenona Brice (Gibran Khalil Gibran Arabic Poetry Scholar), Julie Brown, Edward Gough V (Social Entrepreneurship Scholar), Michael Hobgood (Poetic Scholar), and instructors Zahara Heckscher and Zein El-Amine. The Arabic and Yiddish version were supported by the Rabbi David Shneyer Discretionary Fund of Kehila Chadasha. Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, Eddy Portnoy of YIVO, and Brukhe Caplan of Yiddish Pop assisted with the development of the Yiddish version. Students in Writing for Social Entrepreneurship and many play-testers also helped develop the game. Zein El-Amine curated the words for the Arabic version. Miriam Levi and Edward Gough V created the initial design of the game. Sofia  Sandoval-Ferriss selected and researched the words for the Spanish version. Davianne Marte created the new design. Dominie Burwell created the beautiful boxes.

The photos of the Poetry Game decks and the poems used in this website are from John Guillemin.

Can you create a new version, a branded version, a deck in another language, or with a special theme?

Yes, we can. For details, [email protected].

What is your story/history?

In the mid-1990s, a group of young adults in the Mt Pleasant neighborhood of DC spontaneously created a version of this game that could be played with paper and pen.

Over the next decades, one of the original inventors, Zahara Heckscher, brings the game to others at dinner parties, schools, and events.

In 2014, Zahara Heckscher and Zein El-Amine teach “Inventing and Creating the Poetry Game” Class at the University of Maryland. During a “Writing For Social Entrepreneurship” class, students create an indiegogo campaign for the Poetry Game, design the cards, and create focus groups to test and market the game. Summer: Partnership with YIVO to polish the Yiddish version. Finally, the professional version of the game is published.

From 2015-2017, Zahara and a team of volunteers and interns have brought the game to hundreds of people in schools, community groups. In 2016, the Poetry Game Project becomes a nonprofit organization and adds a Spanish version of the game.

Next steps: Training for trainers, new editions, more workshops, more sales!

Who funds you?

We have been funded by Indiegogo campaigns, the Havurah Institute Innovation Fund, and a generous group of individuals.

Who can play this game — what are requirements for ages, writing skills, language skills?

Generally, ages 10-adult and seniors.

Anyone who is confident writing (or typing) their ideas can play. We have played with advanced 8 year olds. Dyslexic students who cannot write can play if assigned a scribe. People with some cognitive challenges can play if they are still able to write down their ideas. English Language Learners can usually play the English version; the freedom afforded by writing poetry sometimes allow for more flexibility. However, ELL might need more time for explanation of rules and for writing.

Poets and non-poets can play. Many players say they have never written a poem before playing this game.

The language versions can be played by people who do not speak the language, as long as they speak English, as the prompts and instructions are written in English. The Spanish and Arabic versions can be played without any English, with the language instructions downloadable on our language resources page.

What is the suggested number of players?

When you play with the cards out of the box, we suggest a group from 2 to 6. The English version can be played with up to 12 people. The language decks can be played with up to 8 — just give 2 “fill in the blank” cards to each player, instead of 3.

We have organized Poetry Game workshops with classes of up to 30 people. In those cases, we break the class up into groups of about 6 people each to play in small groups.  

How long does it take to play?

We usually allow a minimum of an hour, although it can be squeezed into about 50 minutes. When we do a workshop, we usually add more time for a warm-up poem, discussion, and evaluation, so workshops usually run 90 minutes to two hours.

Who likes this game?

We’ve played it at dinner parties, family gatherings, 4th grade after school groups, intergenerational Jewish groups (playing both Yiddish and Arabic versions), senior centers, middle school English classrooms, poets, non-poets. Consensus: This game rocks.

Almost everyone who has played the Poetry Game raves about it. See our Testimonials.

Who is involved with Poetry Game Project?

The Poetry Game Project is coordinated by a team of volunteers, interns, advisors, and consultants.

Zahara Heckscher is Founder, Coordinator, and Chief Poetic Officer. Zahara is a writer, educator, and social justice advocate. She has taught at the Writer’s Center, University of Maryland, and Jewish Studies Center. She is the co-author of How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas. She writes about her life as a Cancer Thriver, and is a contributing editor at TransitionsAbroad.com. Zahara lives in Washington, DC with her husband and son.

Advisory Board for The Poetry Game Project
The Poetry Game Project is a fiscally sponsored project of the Washington Peace Center, and as such is a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Our advisory board members provide advice to guide our development, including assisting with outreach, fundraising, strategic planning, and program development. The legal board of the 501c3 is the board of the Washington Peace Center.

Poetry Game Project Advisory Board Members:

Yael Flusberg:
Integrative Yoga Therapist and Coach

Yael Flusberg, poet and yoga therapist, runs a series of workshops which integrate yoga and writing called “Pen & Pose.” She was the co-founder of Sol & Soul, a DC-based arts and social justice organization, and is active with Split This Rock, a national nonprofit which cultivates, teaches, and celebrates poetry that bears witness to injustice and provokes social change. Her chapbook, The Last of My Village won Poetica Magazine’s Chapbook Contest in 2010; other work has been published in anthologies and journals.

Bracha Laster, Ed.D:
Professor, Towson University, Maryland

B. P. Laster is a gardener, poet, mother, community activist, children’s book author, and teacher. From 1974-1994, she was a teacher in rural Florida, the Appalachian region of Ohio, a small town in Massachusetts, and Northern Virginia. Since becoming a Professor of Education in 1994, she has taught teachers to become reading specialists. For 15 years, she has been the Director of the Graduate Reading Education Programs at Towson University. Currently, Dr. Laster teaches courses on new literacies, reading disabilities, recent topics in literacy, and cultural contexts of literacy. She has published over 40 peer-reviewed journal articles or book chapters.

Amy Markowitz:

Amy Markowitz has been an educator for over 20 years and has taught poetry and writing working primarily with English Language Learners. Currently, she teaches at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. As a teenager, Ms. Markowitz was praised for her politically-minded poetry; now she is a regular player of The Poetry Game.

E. Ethelbert Miller:
Writer and and Literary Activist

E. Ethelbert Miller is board chair of the Institute for Policy Studies and a board member for The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region. Miller is an inductee of the 2015 Washington, DC Hall of Fame and recipient of the AWP 2016 George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature and the 2016 DC Mayor’s Arts Award for Distinguished Honor. His most recent book is The Collected Poems of E.Ethelbert Miller, edited by Kirsten Porter and published by Willow Books.

Yvette Neisser:

Yvette Neisser Moreno’s first book of poetry, Grip, winner of the 2011 Gival Press Poetry Award, recieved an honorable mention in the New England Book Festival and was a Split This Rock Recommended Book. Moreno is co-translator of South Pole/Polo Sur by María Teresa Ogliastri and editor of Difficult Beauty: Selected Poems by Luis Alberto Ambroggio. She has taught at The George Washington University, Catholic University, and the University of Maryland University College. Yvette is the founder of the DC-Area Literary Translators Network (DC-ALT) and serves on the Program Committee of Split This Rock Poetry Festival.

Josephine “Jo” Reed:
Radio Journalist

Jo Reed’s work in radio explores the lively intersection of literature, culture, economics, and politics. She was host and producer for Washington D.C.’s book show, On the Margin. She served as the news director for Interfaith Voices, a progressive radio show that takes a secular look at religious issues and can be heard on NPR stations throughout the country. Despite being away for 20 years, she still identify as a New Yorker, and she owns, without question, the two best dogs on the planet.

Heba Salem:
Senior Arabic Language Instructor

Heba Salem is a senior Arabic Language Instructor and a faculty member at the Arabic Language Institute at the American University in Cairo, currently at the University of Maryland. Heba is a linguist, and educator, examiner and a lover of poetry and literature. She holds an M.A. in Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language and a B.A. in Mass Communications with a minor in Psychology.

Johnna Schmidt:
Director, Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House, University of Maryland, College Park

Johnna has been Director of the Writers’ House since 2005. She has over fifteen years experience teaching creative writing, and has used the Poetry Game in her classes. Johnna got her start in writing through an interest in theater, and has performed original work across the U.S., mostly in San Francisco and New York City. She later pursued and received an MFA in Creative Writing: Fiction, at UMD. Her work has been published in Beltway Journal for the Arts, Little Patuxent Review, On the Issues Magazine, and Like Water Burning.

What is the Mission of the Poetry Game Project?

Promote deep, joyful, healthy and vibrant creativity by creating time and space where people can connect with their own artistic spirits in an oasis of time outside the rush of modern life.

Build deep webs of community that break down isolation and promote meaningful connections among people of diverse backgrounds, ages, and cultures.

Lift up the role of poetry in public life/Contribute to the work of organizations dedicated to promoting public involvement in poetry, helping to rescue poetry from elitism and put it back in the hands of all peoples

Support organizations that build peace and justice by providing a toolkit of activities that can be used to promote recognition of the humanity and history of marginalized peoples.

Promote innovation and creativity in education, to engage students in joyful self-expression that develops linguistic skills and builds supportive learning communities.

Promote language exploration and learning that contributes to the understanding and preservation of languages and cultures, especially rare, misunderstood, and threatened languages.

What is the Poetry Game Manifesto?

The Poetry Game is based on the idea that poetry belongs to the people. Poetry belongs to the youth, the poor, the gay, the immigrants, the radicals, the rascals, the lovers, those who love to write, those who struggle to write, those who cannot write but can create and recite. It belongs to the bards, griots, zajjalin, jali, the justice seekers, the sick, the healers, the mentally ill, and those struggling to stay sane in a crazy world. Poetry belongs in the zajal, the cèilidh, the céilí, the prisons, the basement parties, the dark coffeehouses, and the sunlight of public parks. Poetry belongs to all of us.

Why does your stuff look a little bit like Cards Against Humanity?

We love the folks at Cards Against Humanity. We have learned a lot from them, from Creative Commons to sleek design. We hope they will agree that imitation is a form of flattery. Our game is totally different from theirs, but they are pioneers in the cool, innovative, card game space, and in expansion of the intellectual commons of humanity. We have studied their success and appreciate their work. It has influenced our thinking about game and web design and intellectual property. We are not affiliated with Cards Against Humanity, but we think of ourselves like their little sister and we look up to them. Except for the actual horribleness of their game.