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)


  1. SOUL-LIFTING SIGHT (rhopalic verse)

    As swallows navigate, circumscribing peregrinations,
    my heartfelt gratitude accompanies felicitations.

    copyright 2013, William Preston

  2. TENDER, TERRIBLE TIME (tautogram)

    Tip-toeing through the tulips,
    the thumping tempo tempts temptation;
    trysters try to temporize
    their trip to terrific tribulation.

    copyright 2013, William Preston

  3. RJ, your examples are enlightening. Two are funny, as is your wont, but Nocturne for a Nighttime Skyis romantic and endearing. Marie, yours left she laughing; in fact, I still am.

  4. LEGAL REDRESS (holorhyme)

    Sue Blue
    blew through.
    Who knew?
    You rue;
    you sue.
    You, too?

    copyright 20131, William Preston

  5. THE HAIRDRESSER’S ON VACATION (slanted perverb)

    When the cat’s away
    there’s the devil toupee.

    copyright 2013, William Preston

  6. Tragic Holoruminations
    (or Guess How Much I Saved You Shopping on Black Friday?)

    Why cry?
    I buy!
    Wry guy.
    I vie,
    I lie,
    I sigh,
    my my.
    mai tai
    mai tai
    mai tai
    my pie
    mai tai.
    I fly
    high sky.
    Why try?
    Eye spy
    my lie nigh.
    I die.
    Bye bye.

  7. Sound Advice for Perverbial Idiots

    Fool me once/ three’s a crowd
    Fool me twice/the harder they fall
    If at first/ live and let live
    Don’t count your chickens/ play ball

    Better to be safe than/ get up with fleas
    Never swap horses/ with water that is past.
    An apple a day/ falls far from the tree.
    When all is said and done/ nice guys finish last.

    Give a man a fish/ and pass the ammunition
    A rolling stone/ go with the flow
    Absence makes the heart/ march on its stomach
    Better be safe/than the devil you don’t know.

  8. Know That I’m Here (Sestina)

    How are you holding up, my friend?
    I can’t sleep for fear you’re crying
    At this moment, lost and alone…
    When those clouds gather above you,
    Know that I’m still standing right here,
    Right beside you…I’ll never leave;

    Although someone close chose to leave,
    And you feel betrayed by a…friend…
    Know that I’m still standing right here,
    You’re not forlorn in your crying,
    I’m never going to leave you,
    Please don’t imagine you’re alone!

    While I live you won’t be alone,
    No matter how many loves leave,
    Forsake, betray, abandon you,
    I’ll always, always call you friend;
    And when you just can’t help crying,
    Know that I’m still standing right here;

    Know that I’m still standing right here,
    Darling, you’ll never be alone:
    When you cry, I’ll be there crying
    Right beside you, and I won’t leave
    Until I’ve comforted you, friend,
    With His word, then I’ll stand by you

    Still, and when grief comes to haunt you,
    Know that I’m still standing right here:
    I’ll be there to catch your tears, friend,
    I’ll be there so you’re not alone,
    I’ll be there and I’ll never leave,
    I’ll be there when you are crying;

    I’ll comfort you when you’re crying
    By putting His blessing on you,
    He’ll never forsake you or leave;
    Know that I’m still standing right here
    When you imagine you’re alone,
    I’ll always, always call you friend…

    Know that I’m still standing right here,
    And I’ll never leave you alone
    Crying…nor will your greater Friend.

    © Copyright Erin Kay Hope

    Written for my best friend, who’s going through a lot right now (also accounts for my miserable mood lately)…I know she feels the same about me…

  9. An earlier attempt – my brain is too numb for a new one 🙂
    Cats (Lipogram, no E)

    A cat is a funny thing.
    A tiny lion full of claw.
    A small cub full of play.
    But, don’t mix up
    that cat is both
    or an oath
    will bolt from your lip
    and you’ll pay in blood
    for your slip.

  10. Today’s Tantrum Tomorrow’s Tiger

    Terrible tumbling
    Toddler Tantrums
    Too trying
    To teach
    Those tumbling
    Theatrical tantrums

    Too timid…

    The tables
    The tax
    Terms triple…
    The test…
    They taste

  11. Pingback: Raucous Remedy | Metaphors and Smiles

  12. Great challenge and examples Rj and Marie!
    I created a Palindromic Tautogram!
    Raucous Remedy
    rain’s ripe
    roiling richly;
    rationality’s relayed
    rounded recipe,
    rotund Relief
    rations released.
    Rapidly rolling
    rallied reconvening ,
    reuniting reservoirs-
    river restarting.
    Rainwater resumes
    readied recycled
    readied recycled,
    rainwater resumes;
    river restarting
    reuniting reservoirs,
    rallied reconvening.
    Rapidly rolling
    rations released,
    rotund relief.
    Rounded recipe
    rationality’s relayed,
    roiling richly-
    rain’s ripe,
    Copyright © Hannah Gosselin 2013


    My father’s hands
    fluttered like bird wings
    when he told stories

    felt gentle around my shoulders
    made me know without doubt he loved me

    applauded life even in his pain
    trembled in those final deathbed days

    and when I look at these old photos
    Papa is waving at the camera, as if death…
    as if it never happened.


  14. Tautogram

    Wednesday we walked
    We walked wistfully
    What would we witness?
    What would we watch?
    What words would we whisper?
    We walked
    We wondered
    We worried
    We were warmly welcomed
    Worries went walking
    Wednesday was wonderful

    © 2013 Earl Parsons

  15. Double reversing Rhopalic Verse:



    © 2013 Earl Parsons

  16. Spoonerism

    The Host of Gooberville

    The Gooberville host was well known
    It showed up on Nalloween Hight
    It kared the sids
    Made them crop their dandy
    As they reamed and scran away
    Koor little pids
    They cost their landy
    To the Gooberville host

    © 2013 Earl Parsons

  17. THE KINDLY CURATE (Spoonerism)

    Reverent Dimothy won an award
    for heecing the wealthy and flelping the sick;
    his prize was a soppy of Damocles’ cord:
    he was prod as a precock and tinkled pick.

    But Timothy, he was a fenerous gellow:
    he offered to auction his chize for the prurch.
    The auctioneer haised it up righ, with a bellow,
    but the shord fell and sattered, leaving the lurch in the church.

    copyright (if I dare) 2013, William Preston

  18. WITHOUT EQUAL (no-“o” lipogram)

    Nancy was always nurturing by nature:
    sweet, albeit at times she was haughty.
    When she’d been drinking, she gain much in stature:
    Nancy was nice, albeit quite naughty.

    copyright 2013, William Preston

  19. Mixed Nutages

    Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come,
    unless a hungry cat crouches in wait there. Just a rule of thumb.

    The reverse side always has a reverse side,
    which sounds a bit like the ol’ Jekyll & Hyde

    The sea has an enormous thirst and an insatiable appetite.
    So, please bear this in mind: the silent dog is the first to bite.

    Beware of snap dragons. They dish the dirt.
    They spread gossip like weeds: Antirrhinums blurt.


  20. Tautogram

    Snowy Sunday

    Silence sifts, savoring
    snow’s softness,
    slowing slate shadows.
    Stillness sighs,
    sounds snuggled, swaddled,
    six sparrows
    settle, singing shrilly,
    signaling sunsets.

  21. Lipogram (no O)

    Winter Chill

    Freezing breezes squeeze
    sneezes, wheezes, teeth-
    chattering, knees clattering.
    Damn, it’s c—nippy.

  22. GET THEE TO A PUNNERY (perverbial construction)

    You can’t get blood out of a handbasket
    nor pound sand nor go the whole hog,
    so go to pot, Godfrey Daniel,
    for crying out loud, go to the dogs.

    copyright 2013, William Preston

  23. HARVEY’S HUMMER HAVEN (tautogram piku)

    hummingbirds hum

    copyright 2013, William Preston

  24. Hindsight Always Has Two Ends

    Hard work helps those who help themselves,
    but if at first you don’t succeed, be careful –
    if a job is worth doing, it is a joy forever,
    but nothing succeeds like an old fool.

    He who hesitates does no one any good, because
    time and tide favor the brave.
    The best laid schemes are better than a quick cure
    and the age of miracles wasn’t built in a day,
    but time is power
    and faith in the future is a dangerous thing –
    after all, tomorrow will happen
    and the darkest hour will surely come to those who wait.

    © Andra-Teodora Negroiu, 2013

  25. Bill
    Phil, Jill
    Bill will steal.
    Bill will kill Phil.
    Bill will grill veal meal.
    Frill, skill, zeal—Jill will thrill.
    Bill will kneel; he’ll seal real deal.
    Jill will feel chill. She’ll feel real ill.
    Bill will spill kill, till Jill will trill shrill.
    Bill will deal till Jill will spill. Phil still nil.

  26. Winston’s Woeful Wanderings (Tautogram Oulipo Poem)

    Winston went walking,
    wambling wassail wishes
    waging war within
    webwormed wasteland.

    Warnings were well-fed
    when wide weights
    wobbled, waving windmills
    where windy waters whisked
    Winston wayward;
    Where wriggling wet,
    wee whelp warned Winston
    woefully, wading wasted
    was worrisomely wicked.

    Wondering where wisdom
    went wandering,
    weak-kneed Winston
    wobble warbling with Watchman.

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