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.

Monday, March 3, 2014


Marianne Moore calls for poets who can create "imaginary gardens with real toads in them."

I find teal roads more intriguing.

With a nod to the sheriff in  Homer Price who tends to get his scords wrambled, this blog is devoted to word play--offering us a twist on the familiar.

Nake it mew!