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An Oulipo poem

Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (Oulipo for short) is a group of mainly French writers and mathematicians who create works with rigid constraints, in order to spark creativity and celebrate wordplay in general.  My favorite example is the extraordinary sonnet “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by David Shulman, in which every line is an exact anagram of the title.  Shulman wasn’t French and neither am I, but c’est la vie.

Here is my attempt at an Oulipo poem.  See if you can determine the rigid constraint at play.

 

An Oulipo Poem

Aim your arrows carefully, and

Be careful not to miss your target.  Do you

See how important the

Demarcation of the boundary is?

Even the best archers miss, in

Effect piercing the innocent, like

Jesus and His stigmata; “on target” is the

“A” choice, and off the bloody circle is the “B”.

I, myself, prefer to think my fletching’s made of

Jade, mined from whatever Byzantine

Cave my heart carves out; full of

Elements and isotopes and

Empathy for the Devil.  You, there, conscience,

Enter that cave:

Open its mossy portals, discern its shadowy

People, and, on

Cue, whistle to the bats and darkness within.

Are you with me, there, inside that cave?  In

Essence, the arrows and the cave are but metaphors; each a

Tease, exotic, exigent, taunting

You

Vehemently as you try to count your blessings.  You

Double, you triple, you quadruple your count but nothing

Extra remains: the cave is empty, the arrow has missed its target, the darkness descends—

Why?  Because your pain has reached a

Zenith—

 

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When I heard the poet talking about hearing the learn’d astronomer,
When the poet mentioned how all the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before him,
When the poet described how he was shown the charts and diagrams, and how to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the poet where he read with much applause in the lecture-room,
When I realized of a sudden, how the theme of the poem was “ignorance is bliss” and “beauty and science are incompatible,” and [holding hands over ears] “please! O please! don’t tell me how anything in this Cosmos works, since then it would cease to be ‘poetic’!”
How soon very accountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the rational moist night-air, time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars,
Thinking about the fascinating Bethe-Weizsäcker-cycle.

(Sept. 25, 2009)

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