The Oulipians
when writing
practice constraint

They say
Break it down

One syllable
non complex
Words that are rawboned
and bare to the core.

The kind
that stare you down.

And yet
who insist on one syllable

ask for
that’s two isn’t It?

And their name
That’s three.

(That’s four)
I think it can’t be done.

But then I think
of love

trust, sun, warm,
truth, song, notes,
motes (it’s time to dust)

I think
that constraint
and impossibility

might be
no more than
rein and myth.

Oulipo is based on constraint. It can be taken to the ridiculous. One syllable words are just one form of Oulipo. For instance,  take a poem, preferably your own, that you love (or hate, as the case may be) and look up each noun, then count 7 down (7 nouns that is) and replace each noun with the 7th after it in Websters (or whatever dictionary you choose). Then rework the poem to make sense of it with the new nouns.

They say we will find freedom in constraint, and maybe so.  I don’t know. I haven’t yet, but I’ve been having fun. Obviously my muse has flown and I’m gasping for air here. 

Below are a few facts I found about Oulipo.

OuLiPo, the “Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle” or “Workshop for Potential Literature,” was co-founded in Paris the early 1960’s by mathematician and writer Raymond Queneau and Francois Le Lionnais. Oulipian writers impose constraints that must be satisfied to complete a text, constraints ranging across all levels of composition, from elements of plot or structure down to rules regarding letters. The informing idea behind this work is that constraints engender creativity: textual constraints challenge and thereby free the imagination of the writer, and force a linguistic system and/or literary genre out of its habitual mode of functioning. . Famous Oulipian texts include Queneau’s Cent Mille Millard de Poemes.


Queneau’s poems

Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes is derived from a set of ten basic sonnets. In his book, published in 1961, they are printed on card with each line on a separated strip, like a heads-bodies-and-legs book. All ten sonnets have the same rhyme scheme and employ the same rhyme sounds. As a result, any line from a sonnet can be combined with any from the other nine, giving 1014 (= 100,000,000,000,000) different poems. Working twenty-four hours a day, it would you take some 140,000,000 years to read them all. (but who would want to? s.m.z.)


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