Form Within Form: Cube-Poems in Electronic Literature




Before you read on, check out “Series Eleven or Five” by Jason Nelson.

So where did you click first? Rotate up or down? Or did you go through by line?

Spending some time with it, I found that the easiest way to track how the cube moves is to make your own sixteen line poem and see what happens to it. I kept a paper copy next to me so I could see where/how lines were moving.

Various ways to read a cube-poem:

  • Clicking through the different levels of the cube: front, shallow, deep, and back (you can find the sections indicated by color to the side of the cube-poem). When you read the poem this way, you read it in the order of the author’s input, assuming you are reading from top to bottom, which you do not have to do. Again, creating your own cube-poem will display this better, and it’s easy! You can see mine here (cube form, search ‘kyle’ in the saved poems) and *below as I entered it.
  • Rotating the cube upwards: When you read the poem this way, the top line in the far back (the red color) becomes the next line you read when the rotation is complete. *Reading from the bottom up, however, the line you last read, after you click rotate, becomes the line you read next.
  • Rotating the cube downwards: This is similar to the last example of rotating the cube upwards while reading it from the bottom to the top. The line you last read, after rotation, becomes the line you read next. *Reading from the bottom up, the bottom line in the far back (the red color) becomes the next line you read when the rotation is complete.

The obvious comparison here is to a Rubik’s cube, therefore this list does not reflect all the nuanced moves a read can make. Also like a Rubik’s cube, arranging a side of the cube-poem a certain way can lead to more or less concrete ways of reading the text—it is all up to the reader’s preference.

Having experienced Jason Nelson’s interactive games that combine elements of literature and play, I think there are some strong similarities in how his games and his cube-poem, “Series Eleven or Five” function as a pieces of electronic literature.

First, I think that both are games. Where “Game, game, game and again game”, “i made this, you play this, we are enemies”, and “evidence of everything exploding” are level based games (navigate a maze or series of obstacles to reach the next level), “Series Eleven or Five” does not require you to master one cube to read the next. In fact, there are tons of poems in the “saved poems” box to the right that can be plugged into cube-form at your choice. But that is beside the point. The form of the cube-poem allows the reader to play with the literature, where the level based games do not. They certainly involve literature, both as physical and metaphorical backgrounds for the game, but the level based games rely on the reader/player to manipulate a character to interact with said literature. Cube-poems are more direct games in terms of imparting a sense of meaning.

I know I have probably used the term game loosely in some peoples’ opinions, but an aspect of play is crucial to how the poem-cube functions. I don’t think you can say you’re only reading when you explore this form–there is something else happening.

For a comparison of the cube-poem to more traditional forms of literature check out the links to sestinas below:

How to make a sestina.



*Here is what I entered into Nelson’s cube-poem form–Give it a try!

We hold these truths to be

Or not to beneath the Christmas

Treason. Tip-toe around the tissue

Crucifixion cradle.


Sleeping distillery tubes

Filled with yawning steam and condensing dreams

Distant bleats from wild sheep

A handful of lilacs, offered.


Wildly rocks the cradle

Decemb-ary required

A box and screen offer advice

A dirty little habit has returned the ring



Beneath a waning gaze

Soul purpose in line

The mindscape of worlds

Created, we hold It’s image.

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