Sunday, July 18, 2010

OuLiPo, A Literary Trend And On Mice Who Invent Their Own Labyrinths


OuLiPo or oulipo (an acronym for ouvroir de littérature potentielle = workshop of potential literature) is a literary current, born in France in 1964.

OuLiPo continues to inspire new literary experiments, some of them of note, such as Eunoia (in 2002), which I mentioned in a previous post.
Started by the poet Raymond Queneau and the mathematician François Le Lyonais, OuLiPo has engendered literary creations that explore forms of art governed by self-imposed constraints. What are some of these constraints?

A long list of constraints can be found on the official web site of OuLiPo.
Here is one, called “Anaérobie”  (anaerobia) created by Luc Etienne.:

By setting the text in a condition of asphyxiation by removing all “R”’s  we obtain a new text which is called the anaerobia of the first. 

Molded by the corset of the oulipian constraints, several notable contemporary literary creations have sprung forth. 

George Perec published La Disparition in 1969, a 300 page lipogrammatic novel written without the letter “e”. This book was translated in English in 1995  by Gilbert Adair under the title A Void.

Other oulipian authors are Italo Calvino and Marcel Duchamp.

Oulipians like to define themselves, in a formula that is now part of the oulipian heraldry as “mice who invent their own labyrinths.”

Thursday, July 01, 2010

How to Fall In Love with a Vowel


The Canadian poet Christian Bök  (b. 1966) is the author of a singular book of poetry – Eunoia, a book  that was awarded the Griffin poetry prize in 2002.

The word eunoia, of Greek origin,  is the shortest word in English that includes all vowels and its meaning, as defined by Christian Bök is “beautiful thinking”.

The book Eunoia is divided into two parts.
The first part of the book, also called "Eunoia", is made up of five chapters, each one dedicated to a vowel: Chapter A, Chapter E, Chapter I, Chapter O, Chapter U.

Each of these chapters encapsulates poems  in prose, in a play of words made up with only one vocal,  excluding all other consonants, and the letter Y.

Eunoia opens with a dedication to the reader:

for the new
ennui in you


which harkens back, in subtle bilingual alliterations,  to themes from Baudelaire’s poetry.

The second part of the book, “Oiseau” takes its title from the shortest French word that contains all vowels.
In this section, I found a brilliant translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s poem Voyelles (Vowels) that belongs to the author.

The poetry in Eunoia hovers over a terrain of linguistic experiments and its poetics, openly displayed, but hard to imitate, resides in the  juggling of constraints in a jig-saw puzzle of improvised meaning  in its lipograms.

Here is a fragment from Chapter I:

“Minds grim with nihilism still find first light inspir-
ing. Mild pink in tint, its shining twilight brings bright
tidings which lift sinking spirits. With firm will, I finish
climbing, hiking till I find this inviting inn, in which
I might sit, dining. I thirst. I bid girls bring stiff drinks…”

The closing of section of the book sheds some light on the techniques used in architecture of  the book - some  “subsidiary rules”.
Here is a quote from these last pages:
“ All chapters must describe a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pastoral tableau and a nautical voyage.”

And if someone were to ask me, at the end of this post -  with which of the vowels I  have fallen in love – it would be difficult to find an answer.
If however, I would be pressed for the answer – which fortunately enough no one is asking for – I would think that this vowel would be the vowel "o".

Another question would be: what vowel did you, the reader of this post, fall in love with recently – when and why?

Home - on Canada Day

Home, a poem by Al Purdy  is a poetic rendition of Canada. 

Here is a fragment:

"Ontario is trees 
the kind that meet from both
sides of of the road
and make a continual whisper"

and the poem's ending:

" and now I dream of islands
in a spring of wild roses
and write another poem
in this enchanted country"

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