So, as I’ve alluded to in previous posts, I am participating in the Found Poetry Review‘s 2014 National Poetry Month project, Oulipost: this will be a series of daily exercises inspired by the Oulipo “school” of writers/artists. (If you don’t know much about them, please check out the Wikipedia page for a quick intro.) In brief, Oulipo writing is characterized by technical tricks and constrained writing, in this case using such apparatuses to transform found poetry over the course of the month. And as part of the project, I’m answering some brief interview questions…
1. What excites you about Oulipost?
I find that constrained writing can be liberating in unexpected ways, because it allows you to bend the laws of language. You gain a deeper appreciation for the words you are forced to use, and demystify the ones you’re forced to not use. It also challenges you to pay more attention to the sound and structure of your writing; too often, I think poets get caught in the trap of the idea, without considering that half of poetry is about how it strokes the ear. That doesn’t mean that every poem I’m going to generate through the challenge will be beautiful and artful, but I’m expecting my ear to at least get more finely-tuned.
2. What, if anything, scares you about Oulipost?
I haven’t committed to daily poetry challenges in a long time, since last April, in fact. A lot has changed in a year, but while I’ve gotten over the breakdowns of last fall, I do still have a full-time job and other activities going on in my life, and worry that I’ll get too frantic with the writing. But I’m not terribly daunted by the prompts themselves, since it’s a little bit of a relief to have a jumping-off point. (I may eat those words later. I figure as long as I keep the expectations of myself low and stick to the spirit of the exercises, then I won’t disappoint myself too much. ^_^)
3. Have you written experimental or found poetry before? If so, tell us about it.
Indeed! I’ve played around with various forms (what I called the helix sestina was probably the biggest technical headache of that kind; check out the only example I could get cleaned up enough for publication at Autumn Sky Review) and messed around with quantum poetry in different ways, trying to get text to work in several directions at once. As for found poetry, I’ve done fortune cookie poems, centos (centi?), cut-ups of National Geographic advertisements… all good fun. It’s not something that I do often, but I enjoy the amount of headspace required, and find that, abhorring a vacuum, I can usually muster up the energy to fill it.
4. What newspaper will serve as your source text?
Being a New York City denizen, I intend to use that weekly bastion of semi-quirkiness, the Village Voice. It’s not what it used to be, of course, but it sure as hell beats the Wall Street Journal. And it’s free. Bonus points.
5. Who’s your spirit Oulipian?
I have been a longtime fan of Italo Calvino since way before I wrote poetry. Invisible Cities is one of my favorite books of all time (and in college one of my final papers for a Medieval Studies class was writing an additional section to the book). I’m also quite fond of Castle of Crossed Destinies, If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler… and his work with folktales. (I also adore his Serbian spiritual successor, Milorad Pavić). Calvino manages to mask his elegant mechanical processes with language and image so lush that you hardly even know there’s a gimmick under the surface, which is the kind of writing I aspire to for this challenge. I imagine it will be harder to disguise things with found poetry than with prose from the wellspring, but still. He’s a guiding light.
So, there you have it. I’ll be putting all my Ouliposts in the category “Oulipost” on the blog, and Tweeting with the #oulipost tag when the occasion arises. I hope you’ll consider keeping an eye on my progress! Please also check out the other folks doing the challenge and their interviews here as they get added.