Guy Bennett

Toward Oulipo

Photo of Guy Bennett

Guy Bennett is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Drive to Cluster, with artist Ron Griffin (Piacenza: ML & NLF, 2003), and, with Béatrice Mousli, the study Poésies des deux mondes: un dialogue franco-américain à travers les revues, 1850–2004 (Paris: Ent’revues, 2004). His poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies in Brazil, Canada, France, Italy, Mexico, Morocco and the US. Recent translations include works by Nicole Brossard, Jean-Michel Espitallier, Mostafa Nissabouri, Valère Novarina, Jacques Roubaud, and Giovanna Sandri.

In addition to writing and translating poetry, Guy Bennett is also active editorially. With Jalal El Hakmaoui he edited a dossier of contemporary Morocccan poetry for Aufgabe (no. 5, 2006). He is the publisher of Seeing Eye Books, co-editor of Seismicity Editions, and is a contributing editor to the New Review of Literature (USA) and Électron Libre (Morocco). He lives in Los Angeles.

Notes: I consider constraint to be an integral part of poetry (for what are verse, meter, rhyme, and form but various types of constraints?), and all of the poetry I have written is constraint-based. Ideally, the constraint is directly related to the formal and/or semantic concerns of the poem, though occasionally it is simply a means to get writing started, give it a shape or direction, or confer to it a coherence it might otherwise lack.

The choice of a constraint to work with may initially be an intuitive one, though afterward I often see that it was in fact motivated; in these cases it’s difficult to say whether there was some unforeseen connection between the constraint and the poem to begin with, or whether I unconsciously developed the latter to fit the former as I was writing it.

Generally speaking, I tend to work in one of two ways: either there is a constraint I’d like to explore, and I seek an appropriate topic that would allow me to do so, or I have something I'd like to write about and look for a suitable constraint.

In writing "Oracle Four" I used a constraint I dubbed the "fortune cookie," hence the poem's subtitle. It works like this: one text is embedded in another text which encloses and contains it, just as the cookie contains the fortune. In the case of "Oracle Four," the embedded texts actually are fortunes from cookies that I have eaten in Chinese restaurants over the years. They were selected for their relevance to and/or resonance with Barrett's life and music.

The poems were structured in this way: the first word of the fortune becomes the first word on the first line of the poem; the second word of the fortune, the second word on the second line; the third word, the third word on the third line; and so forth. Thus the poems have as many lines as their respective fortunes have words, and the latter can be read diagonally through each of the poems.

Additional content was drawn from song lyrics by or writings about Barrett, from certain canonical English poems that seemed appropriate, as well as from my own observations about his work. These materials were mosaicked onto the fortune texts, then the individual poems were tinkered with, tightened, and otherwise fine-tuned until done.