Sunday, April 5, 2009


Inclusion refers to one or more texts being contained within another. (Several different Oulipian methods can be classified under the heading of inclusion.) The poem below was composed using a procedure invented by poet Paul Braffort, whereby the blanks in the poem can be filled by either one of two specific letters, producing a coherent text in each case. In this example, the reader fills the blanks with either ‘m’ or ‘d.’

Circle 8 1/2

A certain drea_ came back to me
As I was walking through the _oor;
A _eal I’d finished once at dawn;
The desolate ri_e the day before.

That night, greeting the sinister _en,
I _ulled, with gin, my looming choice:
To tell the agents it was hi_,
And show the constancy of _ice—
Or to refuse, and in my pri_e,
Give cover to my treasonous _ate.

As evening spreads its silent _ark,
I _ock my years with the poppy’s taste--
And spy the co_ing of the guilt
That whispers to me every _ay.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


An avalanche is a series of snowballs, with each individual snowball consisting of one more line than its predecessor. (For an explanation of the snowball form, please follow this link:

The following is an eight-stanza avalanche:










Sunday, November 16, 2008


The tautogram is among the easiest Oulipian forms to explain; it is simply a text in which each word begins with the same letter. Please find an example below.

Time-Honored Tale

The tree tops trembled through twilight, timbers tapping townhouse turrets, telling troubling tales. Teenage toughs trolled the thoroughfares, tormenting timid Trinidadian taxi-drivers. Trying times turned these teens to terrorism; they talked treason, thoughts trained toward toppling the town’s triumphalist theocrats. Townsfolk tip-toed to their tedious tasks thanks to timebomb threats telephoned to the town’s trains. Theocrats took to tapping telephones, tasing those they tagged terrorists, tarring them thieves through trumped-up trials.

Timothy thought the terrorists told the truth, took to transcribing their theories, titillating the town, taunting the theocrats to tussle typographically. The trigonometry teacher told Tim to think twice; Tim through thrice, then typed thirty tropes taking temple-goers to task. The theocrats, trying to thin the tension, trimmed taxes, tariffs, tolls. Tim trumpeted, “Tired tactics! The theocrats tremble!” Traders took their trade to tranquil towns; tension tripled; the terrorists thought the town tilted toward them. Tim typed tracts that told the townsfolk to tear through the theocrats’ temple. The townsfolk, tempers throbbing, took to the thoroughfares to thump the theocrats. Theocrats toppled, the terroristic teenage toughs took the throne.

Twilight threaded through town, thorny trees twisting toward townhouses. Triumphant, the terrorists took to tapping telephones, tasing those they tagged theocrats, tarring them thieves through trumped-up trials.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Obama and I

The following text does not fall under any particular Oulipian rubric; but as a permutation of another text’s structure, it partakes of the Oulipian spirit. In this case, the original text is Jorge Luis Borges’s classic meditation on the elusiveness of identity, “Borges and I,” altered to substitute Barack Obama—or rather, “Barack Obama,” whomever that may be—for Borges’s speaker. The problematic relationship between public and private identities detailed in the original, while certainly of great concern to Borges, is a subject with a thousand fold more relevance to the life of a politician and inspirational figure like Obama.

Obama and I

The other one, the one called Obama, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Chicago and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Obama from the news and see his name on a campaign ad or in a blog entry. I like basketball, writing, loafing with my kids, Christianity and the prose of Toni Morrison; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Obama may contrive his politics, and this politics justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has outlined some valid policies, but those policies cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the public and to the future. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.

Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Obama, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his orations than in many others or in the laborious blowing of a saxophone. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the machine politics of Illinois to games with hope and change, but those games belong to Obama now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


A univocal passage is, quite simply, a passage that contains only one vowel. As noted by Harry Mathews in the Oulipo Compendium, we can also describe a univocal text as a lipogram in the excluded vowels. (To review, a lipogram is a text composed without one or more letters of the alphabet.)

Below is a short poem in which 'o' is the only vowel.


Mold grown on pools,
Blood color'd moons,
Old Scots' drool,
Trod-on cocoons,

Gowns torn on thorns,
Cold, hollow rooms,
Long spools of worms,
Gorgons on shrooms,

Porn sold to clowns,
Chloroform spoons,
Forlorn port towns,
Bottoms of tombs,

Condoms worn wrong,
Fog, torpor, gloom--

Slow tools of doom.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Lescurean Word Square

Named for its inventor, founding Oulipo member Jean Lescure, the Lescurean word square involves selecting four words and combining them in every possible order. (The number of permutations of four words, and hence the number of lines in the word square, is 24.) In addition to the four words selected, a minimal number of words from necessary parts of speech are allowed for the purposes of lending the lines sense. Below is a rudimentary example.

The Skull Beneath the Skin

The image of death haunts the body’s progress.
The image of death haunts progress’s body.
The image of the body haunts death’s progress.
The image of the body haunts progress’s death.
The image of progress haunts the body’s death.
The image of progress haunts death’s body.

The death of the image haunts the body’s progress.
The death of the image haunts progress’s body.
The death of the body haunts the image’s progress.
The death of the body haunts progress’s image.
The death of progress haunts the image’s body.
The death of progress haunts the body’s image.

The body of the image haunts death’s progress.
The body of the image haunts progress’s death.
The body of death haunts the image’s progress.
The body of death haunts progress’s image.
The body of progress haunts the image’s death.
The body of progress haunts death’s image.

The progress of the image haunts death’s body.
The progress of the image haunts the body’s death.
The progress of death haunts the image’s body.
The progress of death haunts the body’s image.
The progress of the body haunts the image’s death.
The progress of the body haunts death’s image.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Irrational Sonnet

An irrational sonnet is a 14-line poem composed of five verses, with each verse containing 3, 1, 4, 1 and 5 lines, respectively (3.1415 being the first five digits of pi, the most well-known irrational number). The rhyme scheme for such a sonnet, as devised by Oulipo member Jacques Bens, is AAB C BAAB C CDCCD. Below please find an example dealing with the subject of surveillance.


It was becoming difficult to be–
Without (at the same moment) being seen.
Surveillance’s continuous saccades

Were there, profiling each chattering ‘I,’

Assembling Cubist portraits from snapshots
Of e-communiqu├ęs and satellite feeds–
Small slivers of what makes us ‘you’ and ‘me,’
All siphoned from the web and then re-thought

According to the Weltanschauung of spies.

The borders separating truth from lies
Had dimmed, as context spun from our control,
Relinquished to the media’s shifting light....
We pined after identity by night,
Then held our secrets closer to our souls.