Thursday, May 22, 2014

Oulipo, NaPo and me

In January, Janice Soderling posted a call for submissions on Eratosphere for Sein und Werden's forthcoming Oulipo issue. I sent three poems, and received an acceptance within hours.

The Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentiale) was formed in France in 1960, as reaction against the surrealists' emphasis on the aleatory and the subconscious. It aims to invent constraints for generating literature as an alternative to received forms. Perhaps the best known are the lipogram (leaving out one or more letters of the alphabet) and S&7 (originally replacing all nouns in a text with the seventh noun following it in the dictionary). Oulipo also "adopted" pre-existing constraints such as the sestina (and worked out the mathematics of the quenina, a generalized form which can be adapted to a variety of stanza-lengths).

Upon perusing an online French list of constraints and the 2005 edition of Mathews & Brotchie's Oulipo Compendium - the best resource on The Oulipo available in English - I discovered that, in addition to the Oulipoems I had written knowingly, I had unwittingly written many others. Some constraints I had taken from prompts I encountered here and there without knowing they were oulipian; others I had arrived at independently.

I then decided that Oulipo would be my focus during National Poetry Writing Month. This was the eighth year I did NaPo and it was by far the easiest; I had a list of things to try and a clear focus, and only found myself at a loss once or twice; it was even easy to make up what I had missed by being out of town for five days. It was an added encouragement that folks who were also doing NaPo on The Waters were at times inspired to try some of the constraints.

I will provide links to some of my Oulipian efforts in a future post.

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