Tuesday, April 15, 2014

OULIPOST #15: serious case

serious case

science errors overrun
our neurons as memories
worsen in a serious
arms race never worn out since
we are now aware our cars
run on arms and our moon race
increases minor murmurs

I added the constraint of seven lines of seven syllables to "the prisoner's constraint," since I was feeling pretty challenged to make sense of the words themselves. You might call this "the prisoner's constraint squared."

Except for "moon," the words for this poem were sourced from "Why We Keep Losing Our Keys: Everyday Memory Lapses Hit at Any Age; Training to Find Things Faster" by Sumathi Reddy in the Health and Wellness section of the WSJ, April 15, 2014, D1-2.

The Prisoner's Constraint:
Imagine a prisoner whose supply of paper is restricted. To put it to fullest use, he will maximize his space by avoiding any letter extending above or below the line (b, d,f,g,h,j,k,l,p,q,t and y) and use only a,c,e,m,n,o,r,s,u,v,w,x and z. Compose a poem using only words that can be made from these letters AND which you source from your newspaper text. (The Found Poetry Review)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

OULIPOST POEM #9: What's in an NBA Agent's Bag?

 What's in an NBA Agent's Bag?

Big Hedge Funds
Puerto Rican Debt
No-Mess Crafts
Whole Foods
Lavender-filled Teddy Bears from Tasmania 

OULIPOST PROMPT #9: Headlines (Variations of Jean Queval’s “Cent On”) – Compose a poem whose body is sourced from article headlines in your newspaper.  This poem was created with headlines from the April 9, 2014 Wall Street Journal:

What's in an NBA Agent's Bag?

Lavender-filled Teddy Bears from Tasmania
are a Big Hit in China

Big Hedge Funds Roll Dice on Puerto Rica Debt

Moms Pay whatever it takes for No-Mess Crafts

It's Really Hard to be a Whole Foods Clone

Thursday, April 3, 2014

OULIPOST POEM #3: Queen of the Night


Every period of darkness between one day 
and the next--the time day of when no light 
from the sun can be seen and most people 

and animals sleep--she places the part 
of the body she sees with in a state of touching 
with the part of the body someone else 

sees with, in an attractive manner that flows 
clearly from the source. She does this with a group 
of human beings gathered around a common 

interest and settled in close proximity--
separated merely by the distance 
of an upper human limb.

Directions for the "Definitional Lit" assignment: "Select a single sentence from a newspaper article. Replace each meaningful word in the text [verb, noun, adjective, adverb] by its dictionary definition. Repeat this treatment on the resulting sentence, and so on, until you’ve had enough!"

Here's the sentence I chose:
"Every night, she makes direct, engaging eye contact with people seated just an arm's length away."

From "Valerie Benoit-Charbonneau on Acting, Improvising and Eye Contact in 'Queen of the Night'," in the April 2, 2014 online edition of the WSJ.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Oulipost Poem #2: MY BID

The LIPOGRAM assignment for today required me to omit from my poem any words that use letters in my chosen newspaper’s title. It turns out that The Wall Street Journal includes all of the vowels except “I,” and many popular vowels that combine with I:  H, N, S, T as well as J and W. This means that the only vowel in my chosen words is I, but I can’t use: “in,” “it,” “is,”  “hi,” “his” . . . not to mention countless other combinations. Toughest restriction I’ve ever worked with!

My Bid

big fig gig
bid Xi dig

I began by searching an article in the April 2 issue of the WSJ about China admitting French pork into its markets, but was only able to use the first name of the Chinese President and the source of the pork product, with a few others words that, frankly, came from a short list I compiled of possibilities that fit the restriction.

Oulipost Poem #1: Cereal Killer

Cereal Killer

After years of planting one massive crop after another, U. S. Corn farmers are planning to pull back.

“It’s a different world than we were in just a couple years ago,” said Patrick Westfhoff.

Growing global competition is emerging as rapid growth in corn demand at home ends.

Record-setting corn prices spurred production elsewhere.

Thousands of metric tons rejected by China because they contained a genetically modified strain unapproved in that country.

On the Kansas-Oklahoma border, Kenny Mitchell is trying to navigate price-swings.

“Selling the corn is almost as important as raising it.”

This poem, a quote cento, was written entirely with phrases from The Wall Street Journal for April 1, 2014. "Cereal Killer" was created from a single article, “Corn Farmers’ Seed of Doubt” by Mark Peters and Tony C. Dreibus, p. A3.  The title comes from a chart accompanying the article. I can say that my first experiment with this form led me to read far more of the newspaper in the morning than I usually do.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Introducing Oulipost

Assignment #1: Interview

I'm thrilled to be a part of Oulipost this month, as I've been longing for an excuse to write more Oulipo experiments. It's exciting and a bit nerve-wracking to be part of a public group experiment, but I plan on plunging into it as I plunged into learning Spanish in my late adulthood. Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle) was founded in 1960 in Paris by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, writers who were also fans of math.

I first ran into Oulipo about a decade ago, and fell in love with the N+7 chance form.  In this form you choose a piece of text, identify all of the non-proper nouns, and then replace them with a word that's seven nouns ahead in the dictionary. Of course the type of dictionary you have, the similar words you discount as you're searching for the seven, etc. allow for some play in the chance factor. My favorite piece so far is based on The 23rd Psalm:  "The Loris is My Sherpa." I love the sound coincidences in this form, and also the way it reveals the power of syntax once the sense is knocked a bit out of kilter.

For this month I'll be using The Wall Street Journal, since I have a plentiful supply, due to a frequent flier consolation prize. The subscription runs out soon, but if needed I'll dip into the backlog.

My spirit Oulipian will be Italo Calvino, the wonderful Italian storyteller born in Cuba of Italian parents who were botanists and had immigrated to Mexico before he was born. When he was two, Italo returned to Italy with his scientific parents and hid his love of stories from them until halfway through university. It's his passion for the story, especially for the fabula--the fairy tale--that I share. He was invited to join Oulipo in the 1960s. I think of myself as an honorary member, too, at least for the period of Oulipost. And, I have this crazy habit of hiding important things from myself.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


The Mesostic, invented and developed by composer John Cage, combines chance and choice operations.
The rules are simple and intriguing, something like an acrostic, but slightly more complicated.

Choose a word, such as CHANCE.  This word becomes the spine of your poem:


Now, create a series of words that enfold these letters.  You can do this either with single words or with phrases, but the single words are the most challenging and intriguing. The other simple rule is that the spine letters cannot appear in the words between them.  So:


is OK, but

is not properly a mesostic by Cage's rules, because C occurs again between the capital C and H letters of the spine.  This makes a mesostic with the word "chance" tricky, as one cannot follow the C with the H until after H is used, or follow an A with and N before the N is used.

Writing a Mesostic heightens one's awareness of the operations of language restrictions as they intersect with chance.  At one point there was a Mesostic generator online, but it is no longer operating. Perhaps another will arise. Meanwhile, if you want to write one, you'll need to deal with the raw material of language itself.  Most Mesostics keep the parts of speech parallel (a list of nouns works especially well), but that's not Cage's rule.  I'm in love with verbs, so I find a list of nouns challenging.

 Here's my warm-up attempt at a Mesostic sentence:


Here's my attempt at a Mesostic poem of nouns:


You can see that the non-sentence offers the reader far more possibilities for justaposition and interpretation. That's one of my choice take-aways from this "chance" experiment, enhanced by restrictions.

Here's a tribute to Cage and the Mesostic by Michael Carlson, that displays his own mesostic experiments. His Mesostic mesostic is brilliant, and uses a series of nouns.

Here's a blog post from Archie Wah Wah with some 50% mesostics, meaning that they don't follow the rule about repeated letters between words. This may be the easiest way to start, unless you want to plunge into the advanced challenge first. These are also sentence Mesostics.

Finally, a wonderful essay by Marjorie Perloff on Cage's Mesostics that describes his process in developing the form.