Best of Drunken Boat
Issue Eight: The OuLiPo Issue
by Catherine Daly

I have linked to parts of the feature as a shape an all-Drunken Boat DruBo Compendium could assume. Many of the writers—and algorithms—are in the OuLiPo Compendium published by Atlas Archive in 1998 (now made new by Ara Shirinyan’s Make Now) or were profoundly influenced by it. In the days before the Compendium, we who do not belong to the organization reverse-engineered the writing; as mentioned in the writings in the issue, whether or not to disclose the constraints used to create a writing was a matter of considerable debate for the original OuLiPo group.

OuLiPo algorhythms are awfully similar to the old-fangled machines for making poems; call it new form or old form, form is form:

  • Ian Monk combines pantoum and an OuLiPo constraint based on the sestina, leading to a new form, the quenoum. A pantoum is a repetitive form with its roots in song. Entire lines are repeated according to a formula, a formal description of the form pantoum. The n-ina is based on the sestina, which is half canzone. The n-ina is so named because the end words repeat following the same formula as the sestina, but may have different numbers of lines (the integer variable n) than six. Monk’s quenoum repeats some lines according to the pantoum formula (but not always two of four lines), and repeats end words according to the n-ina formula.

Repetitive forms—sadly, stripped of their origins in song—have replaced metrical forms in popularity, particularly in the U.S., among writers who have taken a writing course. By focusing on the formulae underlying the repetitions, OuLiPo extends them.

Of the metrical forms, the sonnet, more rooted in Romance languages than in English, remains nearly ubiquitous, even among OuLiPo. Queneau’s sonnets, Cent Mille Milliards de poems, are, after all, one of the first, if not the first, works of OuLiPo in verse.

  • Robert Rapilly’s palindromatic sonnets, Être venu damer Icare, combine the factorial sonnet with the OuLiPo-favoite additional constraint, the palindrome:
  • Jacques Bens defines his “irrational” sonnet based on Pi; since Pi does not repeat in decimal form, it is (one of many) irrational numbers, so-called, even though Pi is a fairly straightforward ratio, and even though the form is based on the first few digits of Pi in decimal form, rather than really taking on the non-repeating nature of the decimal. Then, in a truly wondrous development, he specifies the gender of the rhymes, where the rhymes are not feminine or masculine rhymes, but the rhyme words are of like gender—in French.
  • How different is this from a “fib” based on the Fibonacci sequence? The “numbers” of metrical poetry are replaced by syllable and word counts for “new” forms based on series and a sort of generalized adaptation of mathematics into form in ways that disregards things that are special and fun to language, but generally there is a clause in an OuLiPo constraint which engages language in some way.

  • John Berryman was formal, even in Dream Songs, but he was formal in the sense of finding / making his own form (three sestets, etc. etc.) to create a context for the diction and affect of poetry in English his mere words displayed.
  • Jacques Jouet’s rime berrychonne is based on the rhyme scheme of John Barrymore’s form for Dream Songs, but also upon a questionnaire and additional constraints. In translation, Mathews notes he uses syllable count (from French) rather than accentual-syllabic count.
  • Literary parlor games like acrostics and codes fit the temper of our neo-baroque time. Pun, homonym, anagram, abbreviation, acronym, are only the beginnings of the multi-dimensional combinations and recombinations and complications of sound, sight, and sense which are part of OuLiPo’s antics. While gaming is massively powerful now, OuLiPo members often earned their livings making old games like crosswords and logic puzzles: Mary Youngquist, Georges Perec, Jacques Bens, and

  • Luc Etienne gives his palindromes
  • Michelle Grangaud provides her sestanagrammatina, where the sestina meets the anagram
  • Definition and samples of Ambigrams and Pincagrams by Gilles Esposito-Farèse
  • Scrabble with comics panels, a game described by Bart Beaty
  • This feature of Drunken Boat was partially translated, and partially available in both French and English. Ian Monk and Harry Mathews, the British and American OuLiPo members, respectively, often translate the works into English. Even those of us who read French must admit that the translation of potential literature amplifies its difficulty and ingenuity.

    Harry Mathews on translation at alt-x, and more translations here.

Ian Monk’s translations and writings on translation are available in print, some also from Make Now Press, but he has written about a mirror translation constraint: translation integral to the making of a poem:

                           N/S is an extract from a collection of poetry written with Frédéric Forte
                           and published in France by Les Editions de l’Attente. We decided to
                           write poems of eight lines, four in English and four in French, which
                           would cover all the possible combinations of EEEEFFFF, EEEFEFF, etc
                           (there are seventy). Each of us wrote the four lines of each poem in
                           our own language then we emailed it to the other, who completed it
                           in his language. I then translated the entire collection thus forming a
                           mirror image of it.
  • Oskar Pastior writes not translations but adaptations, which appear here in German; some of his works, in translation into English by Rosemarie Waldrop and Harry Mathews.
There are OuLiPo “expansion teams,” which, however, so seem to have a necessary relationship to language: Ou-x-Po and OuTraPo, oubapo, oupienpo, oucuipo, oumupo, and ougrapo are here. In the OuTraPo essay, Milie von Bariter mentions that, speech being limited, printed words / placards were brought on stage. As OuLiPo leads to a deformation and reformation of language, it is not surprising that the manipulation puts stress on the visual and sonic, creating visual literature, sonic literature, multimedia literature.

  • OuCuiPo is perhaps inevitable in a French literary movement, but it is the influence of “larding’ that I accepted for my project, and Guy Bennett’s fortune cookie is certainly a blend of OuCuiPo and OuLiPo.
  • Ambigrams are visual poetry.
  • The matrices of Perec have led to more multimedia works, such as those off site by Dan Waber
There are also plenty of applications of the classic OuLiPo N + 7 Lescure substitution, lipograms, elimination of certain letters, or limitation to a small set of letters, abcedarian poems, and the like herein. We are free to derive, adapt, and translate this potential, this resource, of Drunken Boat 8.