Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Playing with permutations of the nouns of a poem

     Founded in 1960, OULIPO  (short for French: Ouvroir de littérature potentielle) has been active in the exploration of the effects of constraints or arbitrary rules  in the production of literature.  
          Developed in the 13th century, the sonnet 
                   (with 14 lines, 10 syllables per line and a prescribed rhyme scheme) 
                       is a well-known member of these "constrained" forms.  The Haiku is another.
     Published in 2005, the Oulipo Compendium, Revised and Updated (edited by Harry Mathews and Alastair Brioche, Make Now Press, Los Angeles) contains definitions and examples of a large variety of rule-following writing.  On page 173 we find some interesting comments about language by French poet Jean Lescure (1912-2005):
     " . . . Lescure remarks that we frequently have the impression 
          that language in itself  'has something to say' and that nowhere 
          is this impression more evident than in its possibilities for permutation.  
          They are enough to teach us that to listen we must be silent
          enough to transform a well-oiled bicycle into a well-boiled icicle."   

In the Oulipo Compendium, Lescure goes on to describe various types of poem-altering permutations -- the simplest of these are "plain" permutations (exchange the first noun with the 2nd noun, the 3rd noun with the 4th, and so on);  here, using several lines from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, I experiment with with Lescure's technique:

     I am the poet of the body,
     And I am the poet of the soul.
      . . .
     I am the poet of the woman the same as the man,
     And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man,
     And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men.
      . . .
     I am he that walks with the tender and growing night;
     I call to the earth and sea half-held by the night.

And, after a "plain" permutation, we find some new sense and some nonsense:

     I am the body of the poet,
     And I am the soul of the poet.
      . . .
     I am the woman of the poet the same as the woman,
     And I say it is as great to be a man as to be a nothing
     And I say there is man greater than the men of mother.
      . . .
     I am he that walks with the tender and growing earth;
     I call to the night and night half-held by the sea.

This link leads to links to other postings in this blog that feature OULIPO.

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