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More than mere play

Review of "How to Play" by Katie Manning.

Take a moment to remember the last time you shared a game with someone, such as Monopoly, Scrabble, or Poker. It could be a recent rousing game with a child or spouse. Or maybe it’s the actual last time you played with someone who has since died – a cherished grandparent or friend. Perhaps you played a game in a dream.

Katie Manning’s newest poetry collection How to Play pays tribute to the power of games to highlight – and even, in their own unique way, sanctify – the beauty of these and other human experiences. Games accompany occasions of grief, affection, anxiety, laughter, gratitude as well as many other emotions and events.

In Manning’s spirited voice, memories and moments that are pleasant and difficult become tender revelations. The simple image of a favourite Candyland card –“the layered ice cream bar that never melts” – evokes an ineffable depth of love. An amusing unused Scattergories answer is a source of shared hilarity with one classmate that she later regrets not letting others enjoy, too. An imagined chess match between Peter and a laughing Jesus includes the striking observation that “Jesus loves the challenge of losing as if by accident.”

Even if you are not familiar with all of the games featured, Manning includes a series of helpful notes in the back of the book explaining the less common ones and some personal background.

Time is a fitting theme throughout the collection, since many people choose games to fill life’s leisure hours. Manning’s poems, however, celebrate gaming as much more than merely a method of avoiding productivity or embracing idleness. For her, games are opportunities to better understand both herself and also the players she finds fellowship with on the other side of the board or table. Play can be holy work.

Author

  • Adele Gallogly

    Adele Gallogly lives with her husband in Hamilton, Ont. By day, she writes for World Renew, a relief and development agency; during evenings and weekends, she lets short stories and other creative pieces out to play.

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