Thursday, January 18, 2018

OULIPO, Mathews -- and permutations of proverbs

     Harry Mathews (1930-2017) was a writer -- novelist, poet, essayist, and translator --whose work interests me a great deal.  He was the only American member of the original Oulipo -- a group formed around 1960 of writers and mathematicians who experimented with a variety of constraints designed to force new arrangements of words and thoughts.  An example cited in a NYTimes feature that followed his death on January 25 illustrates the challenges he set for himself:  he rewrote a poem by Keats using the vocabulary of a Julia Child recipe.  What some might have seen as pointless, Mathews found intellectually liberating.
Mathews served as Paris Editor of the Paris Review from 1989 to 2003 and the Spring 2007 issue offers an interview.   The summer 1998 issue offers samples of his perverbs -- that is, permuted proverbs:
"The word perverb was invented 
by Paris review editor Maxine Groffsky
to describe the result obtained by crossing two proverbs.
For example, "All roads lead to Rome" and "A rolling stone gathers no moss"
give us "All roads gather moss" and "A rolling stone leads to Rome"

Here are a few of Mathews' perverbs:

     All roads lead to good intentions;
East is east and west is west and God disposes;
Time and tide in a storm,
All roads, sailor's delight.
(Many are called, sailors take warning:
All roads wait for no man.)

     All roads are soon parted.
East is east and west is west; twice shy.
Time and tide bury their dead.
A rolling stone, sailor's delight.
"Any port" -- sailor take warning;
All roads are another man's poison.

You were amazing, Harry Mathews and are much missed.
A blog-search using "Mathews" can lead interested readers to several previous posts of his work.

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