poetry and prose about place

playing alleys

with 9 comments

Kids in the school yard have played marbles since the late 1800s, when glass marbles were first produced for the mass market.


When my mom talked about marbles, she always referred to them as alleys, no matter what material was used in their construction. According to Wikipedia, alleys were a specific type of marble. Almost every kind of marble has a specific name. When my son played and collected marbles in the 1980s, some of these terms were regularly heard in our home.

aggie – made of agate

alley – a marble made of alabaster

bumblebee – a yellow and black glass marble

cat’s eye – a marble with a eye-like inclusion

crystal – a clear glass marble of various colours

galaxy – opaque marble with coloured dots

oily – an opaque marble with a sheen or oily finish

onionskin – a marble with surface streaks of colour

ox blood – a marble with a streak of dark red

pearl – opaque marble of single colour and a mother of pearl finish

plainsie – a clear glass marble with inclusion of two or more swirled ribbons of colour

swirly – glass marble with a ribbon inclusion of a single colour

tiger – a clear marble with orange and yellow stripes


There are lots of other marble types and names.


June 21 2016 'playing marbles' Jane Tims


The language of marbles extends to the various moves in the game:

knuckle down – put hand in position to shoot

keepsies – to play for keeps

quitsies – stop playing without consequences

firing – to shoot a marble


Such interesting possibilities for the language of a poem!


Writing about a game of marbles will include all the senses (I think my poem will be from the point of view of a boy playing marbles):

sound – clinking of dishes in the sink; grinding of marbles together in the marble bag

taste – grit of sand stirred by wind across the playground; grit of raspberry seeds

feel – the cold smooth feel of a marble; a chunk of icicle from the roof in December

smell – stirred dust; girls watching the games, smelling of Ivory soap and well water

sight – bubble rising through the glass of the marble; bubbles with rainbows sliding; dew drops on Lady’s Mantle in the garden


I can hardly wait to write a poem about playing marbles in the school yard!



Copyright  2016  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

July 15, 2016 at 7:00 am

9 Responses

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  1. Somehow I never played much with marbles. It’s amazing how much terminology is associated with them.

    Liked by 1 person


    July 16, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    • Thanks Sheryl. Some terms are very local in their use. The ‘language’ must evolve on the playground and pass by word of mouth, advertisements and so on. Amazing!


      jane tims

      July 16, 2016 at 9:40 pm

  2. Love it. I had forgotten about keepsies!

    Liked by 1 person

    Jane Fritz

    July 15, 2016 at 9:07 am

  3. I have a jar on my shelf filled with marbles … a game I played a great deal when younger and could still knuckle down. Thank you for reminding me … to knuckle down …

    Liked by 1 person


    July 15, 2016 at 8:38 am

    • Hi. Playing marbles, any game, is a metaphor for so many aspects of life. The choices we make, the way we win, the way we lose … all are learned in the games we played as children. And the accessories of games are such a lovely expression of creative energy … the beauty of those marbles, the art on the Snakes and Ladders game, the feel of the glove on your hand.

      Liked by 1 person

      jane tims

      July 15, 2016 at 8:49 am

      • You are writing your poem as you sit there, Jane. Go for it …

        Liked by 1 person


        July 15, 2016 at 8:55 am

      • I think the process is as important as the poem!

        Liked by 1 person

        jane tims

        July 15, 2016 at 11:34 am

      • Indeed it is: this is a very wise comment. I find with the cartoons I draw that I live in a sort of meditative space that is so comforting and other worldly. If I don’t draw, I get withdrawal symptoms. Same with writing.

        Liked by 1 person


        July 15, 2016 at 12:21 pm

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