oulipo pic

Shall We Play a Game?

For this week’s In-form Poet, we’re going to be going in an unusual direction, in that there are a number of ways you can approach your poetry writing using this particular ‘form.’

Actually, form (singular) is a bit of a misnomer since, there are several different invented forms connected with the Oulipo style of poetry writing (oo-lee-poé; acronym for “Ouvroir de littérature potentielle,” meaning ‘workroom in a convent for potential literature’).  So actually, it is more subgenre than any particular form, per se.

According to John Drury, in his book, The Poetry Dictionary, this was a, “…poetic movement founded in 1960 by a group of poets and mathematicians, led by Raymond Queneau.”  He further explained how this group used games and numbers to work their poetry, with forms like the (eeeek!) Sestina, Cento, and the infamous Rhopalic Verse (you know, where each word has one more syllable than the last, hence the nickname ‘Snowball’).

Some other fun forms in this subgenre are:

Holorhyming – every syllable must rhyme. (Why cry, sly shy guy?)

Lipogram – text that eschews one or more letter.  (Nixing the letter ‘e,’ for example.)

Permutational poem – verse in which the lines can be read in any order.

Tautogram – where each word begins with the same letter.

Antonymic translation – where antonyms are substituted for words in a text, thereby giving a sentence, paragraph, etc. an opposite-ish meaning.

Boolean poem – where you use ONLY the words which are common in TWO distinct poems to create a new poem.

Haikuization – where (ready for this one?!) a poet keeps the rhyming parts of a poem, but gets rid of the rest of it.  Drury’s example here is:

Take the last stanza of Yeat’s ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ and turn it into this: “Never take/any natural thing./Make/enameling/awake./Sing/of Byzantium/to come.”

Perverb – a mixing of the first half of one proverb with the second half of another one.

One of Drury’s examples here is, “Still waters/starve a fever.” …and… “The Lord helps those who/gather no moss.”

S + 7 – a poem where a poet replaces each substantive noun in a text with the seventh noun after it – in the dictionary.  The example given here is: Andrew Marvell’s “Had we but world enough, and time/This coyness, lady, were no crime” might become, “Had we but worry enough, and timeserver,/This crab laetrile, were no crinoline.”  Obviously results may vary, depending on the dictionary you choose to use.

Palindrome – a phrase or sentence which reads the same way, front to back, or back to front.

Portmanteau word – a nonce word, per Lewis Carroll, which combines a part of one word with a part of another.

Spoonerism – accomplished by switching the initial sounds of words with nearby words.  (Invented by the Reverend W.A. Spooner, 1844-1930.)

Your job, you brilliant In-form poets, is to use one or more of the above, and create your own Oulipo masterpiece.  (Or several of them!)

Here’s a couple of examples by yours truly:

Double reversing Rhopalic Verse:

Nocturne for a Nighttime Sky


Palindrome (and by the way, ‘aibohphobia’ means fear of palindromes!):


Ah no, is it?
T’is I on?  Ha!


S + 7:

Souvenir from a Lost Love

Jack found a gold locket
in his rear blue jean pocket
when he went to the laundromat.
He opened the locket
and found quite a shock – it
belonged to his ex, Wretched Pat.
Jack thought he would walk it
to the pawn shop to hock it,
telegraphing to her, “Yo! Take that!”
Then, he said he’d just chalk it
up to life and not knock it
and then he sledge-hammered the darn thing flat.

Okay…that was the original poem I wrote (quite a while ago, actually.)  Here’s the ‘new & improved’ version:

Sow Bug from a Lost Lower Case

Jack found a gold lockstep
in his rear blue jean podagra
when he went to the lavabo
He opened the lockstep
and found quite a shoemaker – it
belonged to his exaggeration, Wretched Pat.

Jack thought he would walk it
to the pay load to hock it,
telegraphing to her, “Yo! Take that!”
Then, he said he’d just chamberlain it
up to light and not knock it
and then he slight-of-handed the damn thing flat.

podagra – gout in the foot

lavabo – a large stone washbasin, also, ritual washing of hands



So…think you can ‘play?’  Good.  Ready…set…start poeming!



Sue’s flue’s Lou’s new loo.

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; Carl August Ehrensvärd, Birth of the Poet, 1795)