Wednesday, 1 April 2015

My First Workshop

OK, I've been to poetry workshops, but that was the first time I'd run one - co-hosting with Ben Lawrence (poet, friend, beard, quidditch champion) on the theme of Oulipo. If you don't know what Oulipo is, it's a contraction of Ouvroir de littérature potentielle which roughly translates as "workshop of potential literature" (so, technically this was a workshop-workshop meta-thingie) where writing constraints are used to inspire new writing. Founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, it started as was a loose gathering of (mainly) French-speaking writers and mathematicians who sought to create written works using various constraining techniques. So, think univocalism (only allowing yourself to use one of the vowels) and that kind of thing, often in cool Parisian coffee-houses- highly appropriate as the workshop took place in an independent cafe-gallery albiet in Southampton.

We worked though a variety of tasks and prompts, one of which was to create a snowball poem. This means starting with a single letter as the first line, two letters in line two and so on. You go as far as you want, then, if you wish, back down again to end with a single-letter as the last line. In a spirit of camaraderie, me and Ben did the exercises too. Here's my snowball output:

Snowball Earth

on this
dying orb,
sucked away
to power – what?
Great engines,
arrays that open
spacetime rips to
nowhere, a pure void
vampiric upon solar
energy, and we couldn’t
close it, so our giant
companion star got
cooler and cooler
‘til candle-faint,
a lonely cinder
lost in vacuum
without fuel,
so Earth now
chills and
darkens, a
for all
of our

Well, I got all dystopian and bleak there, but you see how it works... If you like constrained writing you can set yourself whatever rules you wish as long as you enter into the spirit of Oulipo and stick to them rigorously. A great book containing numerous examples is Adventures in Form, and you might like to check out Ross Sutherland's univocalist and N+ (more about that later) works, as well as the famous Eunoia by Christian Bok.'Til then, here's an image of poets attempting Oulipo-ness...

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