oulipost 24: neighborhood boys

Getting my Oulipost on this lovely afternoon. Today’s prompt was to do a homosyntaxism, taking found text and converting words to other words with the same part of speech: nouns become other nouns, verbs become other verbs, etc. I decided to adapt the prompt a bit and call it a slow burn, where the poem applies these changes to the same sentence one iteration at a time, as you’ll see below. I’m sure there’s a better name for it, but I like “slow burn” because it applies to the content of the piece. The original sentence is the first one, and it’s from the Voice, and it’s a throwaway line whose provenance I can’t recall.

Neighborhood Boys Exchange Difference of Opinion

The conversation turned to us talking about the people and things that made our local spots great.
The conversation turned to us talking about the people and things that made our local spots deadly.
The argument turned to us talking about the people and things that made our local spots deadly.
The argument turned to us talking about the speedballs and things that made our local spots deadly.
The argument led to us talking about the speedballs and things that made our local spots deadly.
The argument led to us talking about the speedballs and switchblades that made our local spots deadly.
The argument led to us talking about the speedballs and switchblades that made our usual spots deadly.
The argument led to us talking about the speedballs and switchblades that left our usual spots deadly.
The argument led to us showing off the speedballs and switchblades that left our usual spots deadly.
The argument led to us showing off the speedballs and switchblades which left our usual spots deadly.
The argument led to us showing off the speedballs and switchblades, which left our usual day deadly.

poem-a-thon 23: serenading the madam

Gah, managed to get my four poems for today done before the end of work, thanks to a brief lull in things. This is for the NaPoWriMo post of doing a homophonic translation, which is to say, taking a poem in a foreign language and shifting it into English. This requires some clever use of orthography and/or some familiarity with the language’s phonology, plus a certain willingness to skim carelessly and just roll with the punches. My go-to language for such exercises is usually an Eastern European one (Hungarian and Serbian are favorites), but this time I went to Finnish, and the poem “Won’t You Close Your Eyes” by Olli Heikkonen. Here’s the original text:

Sulkisit jo silmäsi.
Heidän valonsa on muita valoja kirkkaampaa.
Se pakottaa silmiä ja korventaa niskaa.
Se tulee puiden takaa, ihmisten valo,
ja saa minut säntäämään
pensaisiin ja pitkään heinään
metsän hyiseen ytimeen.

Että millaista on pudota suohon
suorin jaloin, sorkat kuin lyijypunnukset.

Ihokarvat työntyvät turpeeseen,
jokainen huokonen
rävähtää auki. Rävähtää auki

sillä mudan ja liejun syvyyksiin
on juurtunut pehmeä valo,
sinne on juurtunut
yksinkertainen valo.

Which translates (according to Maria Lyytinen at this page) as:

Won’t you close your eyes.
Their light is brighter than other lights.
It aches in the eyes and scorches the neck.
It comes from beyond the trees, human light,
and makes me race
to the shrubs and tall grass
to the icy core of the forest.

And what it is like to sink into the swamp
with straight legs, hooves like lead weights.

Hairs push into the turf,
every pore
bursts open. Bursts open

for in the depths of mud and sludge
a soft light has taken root,
a simple light
has taken root.

But which I rendered — with my knowledge of Finnish phonology, ignorance of Finnish vocabulary, and a good deal of alphabet soup transmogrification — as some kind of frustrated love song to a bordello ex-baby-mama or something. Not at all in keeping with the rest of my stuff this month, but language and ignorance make strange bedfellows:

Serenading the Madam

Sulkily, I sit on your sill, massing
hate and valors on my values. Quick computations
see packets of similar conventions in the scar
you set me, putting talk into my stain. Value?
You say “minutes”, and tall men
penning sighs in a pinch can have no one
medicine. Who’s seen what I mean?

Add a million stars. Open dots of sun:
sun, or yellowing sores. Caught queen, looped and naked.

I, who carved out twins too vast to represent,
joke that I’m an awoken
raven, the owl key. Raven. The owl key.

Silly mother, you lie on your cervix in
one of your turned-out pay-me-off wallows.
Sins are on your tongue,
whose skin — certainly — is valued.

oulipost 23: cannibal

On a roll with the Oulipost prompts, at least. Today’s was to do an “inventory” poem, dividing up the words in a text by part of speech and working that into a poem. I took an advice column in the Voice responding to the reader’s question about whether to go vegan, and ended up with, um, this. Tongue planted in a very macabre cheek.

The italic bits started as direct quotes, but I cobbled them a little bit in the end. The four lists are verbs, concrete nouns, adjectives, and abstract nouns, respectively, drawn from the response. (There are some prepositions/articles mixed in for flourish. Sue me.) I tried to work in a bit of subtle sound similarity as well.

One more poem to go! I’m trying to get these done early in the day so I can relax this evening…

Cannibal Comes to Terms with Self, Diet

I clearly remember the day I decided
I don’t like people telling me what to do.
Prepare, continue, embrace.
Move, become, reclaim.
Should take, can do, must face.

Something that I once thought was pure evil:
occasionally I’d splurge.
Cow’s body, bird flesh, the dead.
Swordfish steak, bacon, eggs.
Vegan burger. Human head.

I enjoyed it more passionately.
I seemed to love it even more.
Unique, biological, honest.
Grotesque, bizarre, pure.
Full-blown, aware of the finest.

I wrestle with the fact that I might have to choose
a version of myself that had existed before.
Thought in sin in sincerity.
Pleasure. Damage. Brutality.

oulipost 22: pine barren rangers

Better late than never, yeah? I’m trying to make up for lost time this morning by getting some poems done; two down, two to go. This is for yesterday’s Oulipost prompt about antonymy, taking a found text and making as many of the words as possible into antonyms. I took some liberties and tweaked it a bit to make it more “poetic”, where possible. The original text was about carriage horses in NYC, and given that yesterday was Earth Day, I spun that as much as possible into an environmentalist kind of theme. Without further ado:

Pine Barren Rangers Raise Outcry over Hunting Permits

The sound of the Washington Forest birding grounds
vanishes after the feel of them,
the division of scrub grass and bayberries
and osprey shadows. It tumbles out of the sky
over the nameless bays, far west of the barrier islands,
next to Washington Preserve, for which
the birding grounds are not named.
The sound does not freeze your feet in place,
ignorant to the sudden cocks and hens.
One long ago morning, too, the gates were crowded.
A few of Jersey’s unknown wild birds
were fanning out their dark, lifting out of clearings
at nine mudflats collected on the edge marsh.
Outside Washington Forest,
when the avian visitors rustle uneasily awake,
upright carnivores were, at last,
burning their armistice to ash.

oulipost 21: battered artist

On a roll today (three done before sundown yessss), which is good, because it’s going to be a busy day tomorrow. This one is for Oulipost’s “confabulation” prompt, constructing a “he said-she said” poem out of quotes from the paper. I took a bunch of direct quotes from dudes and ladies, but ultimately it ended up being a lady’s story, so I let the poem roll with it. For the sake of demonstration, the italics came from quotes by women, non-italics from quotes by men.

Off to workshop for now!

Battered Artist Narrates Leaving Her Husband

I chose to photograph the space
exactly as it appears — I think, “Look, I’m a novice,
I’m a newbie, I’m stretching my legs,” but because
the shutter is open for so long, it moved to
the corner, and then my office, and then the closet,
attracted to spaces without people.
Architecture does not move; I tell the truth. I cannot
lie before God. Three months ago, I literally did not know
what I was doing. And then because you go away,
for a few months, I do not move or change things.
I’m finally able to think straight.
Pop culture did a good job of getting us
addicted to the airport – I don’t know where you go.
Who was responsible for this bizarre masterpiece?
People don’t even know you, but they say,
‘Oh, I guess she never comes out of the closet?’
The answer was overwhelmingly: “I’m free from
everything now.” I cut my hair. I look a little different
walking in there and kissing the ring and saying,
The good thing is the freedom. But the good thing is
letting you know
you actually leave.

oulipost 20: thelma and louise

OK, last one for the day and then I’m calling it a night. The Oulipost prompt was about permutation of different kinds, such as Lescurean or Roussellian: the bottom line is, take a text and switch around the nouns, first with second, third with fourth, etc. Different patterns will yield different results. I kind of mishmashed my source text (a photography exhibit review) in various ways, and just kind of arranged the nouns in the same locality in a way that would be mildly interesting. You be the judge of whether that element of it succeeded…

And while I’m posting, an announcement: Tessa and I are extending the submission deadline for Issue 2 of CSHS Quarterly, “Alchemies“, until Friday! So, you have another five days to get some stuff in for the theme, and we are in an accepting mood… please head over, see what we’ve got, consider the theme, and send us some work. It will be grand, we hope!

Thelma and Louise Sequel Announced, Decried

Just how tough is the leather
in that babe bouffant, auburn jacket
and mercury cheekbones? She looks
to have been around a bit, as has
the 1969 cougar model she’s just parked
at the hardtop snack drive-in,
its textured shack dulled black by
too many leopard prints. And there she is
again, wearing winters, but in this
second Midwestern story, a martini
trails softly off her hair and she is sipping
a backyard pool. In her shoulders,
a girlfriend and a scenario– who is taking
a cigarette in cheek-collapsing drag?
Both look tense, heavy thirtysomething eyes
not fully camouflaging that they’ve
rounded the makeup of corners. Perhaps
in our cougar-obsessed future,
they’re pondering their youth as water,
the martini-spotted and chipped glass beauty
symbolic of mortality’s culture.

oulipost 19: aging yuppies

I must say, I am surprisingly proud of myself with this one.

The Oulipost prompt was to make a (holy shit) sestina out of the found text from the paper; I took four articles about marijuana from the Village Voice, which is their feature for the week. Process note: I dropped the entire text into Word, picked out my teleutons (I’m using this instead of “endwords” because I’m feeling pretentious today), and then just wrote the damn thing, checking through the Word document along the way to see if the words I wanted were in there. If they weren’t, I checked for synonyms, or went in a new direction of none could be found, and the whole thing took surprisingly little time (about an hour). (I might have changed a verb tense here or there.) And it makes sense, kind of! And there’s a narrative, kind of!

…sestinas are beastly things, but as far as sestinas go, one could do worse, I guess. One could certainly do better. I’ll take it. ^_^

Aging Yuppies Mellow Out, Learn Russian

We spent the day reading Dostoevsky
in the crystal light of a Brooklyn spring:
all white wax and purple variation.
We bought up our pretension from the state
with old film cases and ready money
from college research. Now we can last years

relaxing on the sofa, foie gras years
topped with wine. The pleasure of Dostoevsky
is: he never gets boring, like blue money
flowing among roses from a wellspring.
We crave the Russian sentence in this state:
long and green and full of variation,

food for the brain. We want variation
because we spent so many empty years
smashed dull by the system. We couldn’t state
what love was, opened up Dostoevsky
and, halfhearted, picked out what would spring
from the page. Caught in the forge of money

were hosts of whispers. Born to covet money,
within the walls of dorm rooms, variation
seemed bizarre as a camera running on springs.
How did we bust out? It took twenty years
of care and– day by day– Dostoevsky,
to get us out of that malignant state.

We walked around the country, state to state,
doing research on how to really live. Money
fell away; we only needed Dostoevsky,
who sustained us with strange variation,
and each other. Literature of yesteryear
led us, at last, to this dopamine spring

where we’re comfortable, full of relief, spring
physical with appetite. Normal states
are for normal people. We say, “This year,
motherfucker, we’re not after money,
church, any of that shit.” Just variation,
something new. (Except Dostoevsky–

he’s staying). The first spring of the first year
of money-freedom, Dostoevsky will be
the symbol; variation, the blissed-out state.

oulipost 18: demon tailors

All right, I don’t know where the hell I went with this one. Somewhere ludicrous. The Oulipost prompt for today was to do a homoconsonantism, where all the vowels in a text are replaced by ones you choose, but the consonants left in the same order. Here’s what I plucked from the Voice for this:

Wherever you go, the food is a smoker’s dream: hand-held corn shells, stuffed to the brim with tasty combinations like roast pork shoulder with spicy mango salsa, grilled chicken, chorizo, avocado, and green chimichurri, or grilled white cheese with beans, jalapeño, red peppers, and ripe fried plantains, which add a malty, sweet tinge.

…which describes my favorite Venezuelan place in the city. And I managed to squeeze it and break its feet and cut off bits of it and wrangle it into some kind of bizarre Dantean vision about the River Acheron and demons making, I don’t know, demon clothes in it? Conscripting some random damned soul passing by? Did the best I could, and this was the result.

I fudged the rules a bit too (such as deleting “y” when it was used as a vowel, but keeping it when it was consonant, throwing in a “w” as part of a diphthong, changing a soft “g” to “j” at the end, etc.), but I’m pretty blitzed on this exercise. It’s almost midnight, and I’ll take what I can get.

Demon Tailors Explain Their Internship Program to Poet

Why– a river you Gothified as some kir,
as drama-hue, and held icy runes–
Hell’s staff dye (at the brim) wet hates,
to comb into new silk. Or stop
a rakish lad– “row this piece, manage
loose grey, I’ll do check-in.” A choir zouave–
cad and grinch!– may cheer, roar, growl,
“Lad, what I choose, we, the banes,
jewel up in red.” Pay appears– no drop of
rude polenta, no!– see, who ached,
do melt– sweet to enjoy.

oulipost 17: food cart veterans

Good thing, given my state, that the Oulipost prompt today was a relatively simple one: to haiku-ize three sentences from an article. I plucked a write-up of some of the Easter fare options in NYC, found my sentences, trimmed them to the (ugh) 5-7-5 format what’s standard for such things in English, and ended up with an amusing little pun in the title reflecting the two kinds of fare on offer at this phantom market:

Food Cart Veterans Explore Deconstruction

Vendors at market:
sour cherry, millefeuille with cream;
an alphabet brunch.

But then, because I never miss the opportunity to flex my Japanese a bit, I bastardized it into this, where some of the words have changed and some of the compounds (especially the last) would probably raise an eyebrow for the native speakers. But I think “ume” can be a seasonal word (though not sure which one: summer?), the images are pretty stand-alone, and I like the contrast between the second and third lines. So I’d consider it at least an honest attempt, and I believe I conserved the syllable structure in Japanese. Anyway, here you go:


ichi-dai ni
ume to dorayaki

(at the fair-tables
sour plums and custard pastries
an alphabet meal)

oulipost 16: expat artiste

Once again, illness has walloped me pretty hard; definitely have to drop by the doctor’s tomorrow to get things checked out. (My rule is, if I have insurance, and things aren’t improving after three days, it’s time for the physician.) But before I hit the sack and try to rest up a little bit more, here’s the Oulipost bit for the day: the challenge being, to take an article (I used a character sketch of a weed delivery guy), replace all the nouns with the nouns from a second article (a write-up of a photography exhibit), all the verbs with the verbs from a third (a review of a Korean restaurant), and all the adjectives with those from a fourth (an interview with a rising indie pop star). The result is this chimera which is beautifully surreal and… kind of works?

I don’t have the energy to decide. Please do it for me while I pass out.

Expat Artiste Interweaves Style, Space-Time

Prince has assembled a fashion culture
on and off for almost four winters. He’s in his
leopard print now, but he was still in
Cambodia when he entered the future
through a camera. He appears three times
a minute, and cuts up, on average,
15 photographs an evening. If he cuts up
more than 20, he orders an early martini.
Usually he’ll appreciate it or offer it —
he used to be a fast-talking sexpot,
but he doesn’t taste much any more;
near-constant desire holds him closer.
The characters help him ferment
his drag dreams and overflow his heartwarming
drama (he’s in two miniseries and does
underwear on his minutes off). When he runs,
he confounds any one of the universal
daylight consumers who plunge around Serbia,
drenched in ego, well-constructed on
a sensual hardtop, with a curtain
and a golden Renaissance medley grounded
over one shoulder. And like
any dynamic presence, he can appear
at your bungalow in 20 fantasies or less.