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Five OuLiPo-related constraints, with links. Some new ones, too, for all you oulipian veterans.

April 14, 2010 \am\30 9:27 am

Meeting of the Oulipo in Boulogne, near Paris, on September 23, 1975, in the garden of François Le Lionnais (Italo Calvino is in the center with an open newspaper, at founder Raymond Queneau’s right).

We love the OuLiPo, or Oulipo, or the Oulipo, or oulipo, or Ooh Lee Po’.

We do.

Oulipo, an abbreviation of Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or Workshop of Potential Literature, a group of writers and mathematicians who worked with mathematical or math-inspired methods to come up with work. Members include Raymond Queneau, François Le Lionnais, Claude Berge, Georges Perec, and Italo Calvino; Harry Mathews is the first English-speaking member. A good intro is on Drunken Boat here; the entire oulipo feature, complete with a wealth of writing, is here.

Today we outline five Oulipo constraints–two completely new, and a couple of new links.  Enjoy.

The "only e" oulipo keyboard.

1. Take a look at this Oulipo Keyboard. “The writer must make tactical adjustments to their writing practices in order to compensate for the unexpected affordances of the interface,” the inventor, Adam Parrish, writes. “The resulting text bears the traces of the interface through which it was realized.” I think it replaces all the over vowels, which are blank spaces on the keyboard, with the letter e. Parrish has some other text-mashing devices on the post as well, all them fairly brilliant. But how to get one? Video of the OuLiPo keyboard in action here.

2. Did you know there was an online N+7 generator? We didn’t either. Now we’re in bidness!  The N+7 method involves replace every noun in a text with the word that falls 7 places ahead of it in the dictionary. No more telling students to bring their print dictionaries into class. (They don’t own them, for one).

Bonus: results include the texts as N+0 (i.e., the original version), N+1, N+2, on up to N+15.

We will never sleep.

3. I keep forgetting about the prisoner’s constraint. (It’s also called the “macao” constraint, but I don’t know why). This is a lipogram that excludes letters with legs (i.e., b, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, p, q, t, and y).

4. Warren Motte, a historian of the Oulipo, outlines another constraint I’ve never heard of: the métro poem. This is a poem composed in the métro, during the duration of a trip. Here are the guidelines; I would imagine these are adaptable for your local public transportation system:

A métro poem has as many verses as your trip has stations, minus one.

The first verse is composed in your head between the two first stations of your trip (counting the station from which you departed).

It is transcribed onto paper when the train stops at the second station.

The second verse is composed in your head between the second and third stations of your trip.

It is transcribed onto paper when the train stops at the third station. And so forth.

One must not transcribe when the train is in motion.

One must not compose when the train is stopped.

The last verse of the poem is transcribed on the platform of your last station.

If your trip involves one or more changes of subway lines, the poem will have two or more stanzas.

5. Then there’s the snowball. This is a “recomination” method in which each line or sentence is a single word, and each successive word is one letter longer. You thought it was going to be something else, didn’t you?  Get your mind out of the gutter.

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3 Comments
  1. Michael Costello permalink
    April 14, 2010 \pm\30 12:52 pm 12:52 pm

    I believe Alice Notley’s The Descent of Alette (or at least sections of it) was composed using the Metro Poem constraint, though I don’t know if that is just coincidence. Also, some of Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets were arranged according to methods of anticipatory plagarist Raymond Roussel. Gilbert Sorrentino and John Ashbery have also written texts … See Moreemploying Oulipo constraints. I would also suggest Ian Monk. And in shameless self promotion add that my poem in the Best American Poetry 2004 employed the N+7 constraint…Ode to my flesh and blood body became Ode to my flint and boom Bolivia.

    • April 14, 2010 \pm\30 1:18 pm 1:18 pm

      Totally either forgot or never knew about the Metro. I have on Ian Monk book–it has to be the one you’re talking about. Did you know about the online n=7 generator?

      Thanks for commenting, Mr. Costello!

  2. Michael Costello permalink
    April 16, 2010 \pm\30 9:26 pm 9:26 pm

    I did not know about the generator. Can’t wait to check it out. You have the Oulipo Compendium, of course?
    Whenever I visit the capital region next I hope I can run into you.
    If you can, look up on FB, Mike Brady Art. I think you would enjoy the pictures.
    Thank you Mr Nester, for all you do.

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