- Posted by Stephen Whiteley
- On 21/02/2011
- lipogram, Oulipo, poetry, vowels
‘He rebels. He sets new precedents. He lets cleverness exceed decent levels…He prefers the perverse French esthetes: Verne, Peret, Genet, Perec…Relentless, the rebel peddles these theses, even when vexed peers deem the new precepts “mere dreck”‘.
A few weeks ago we posted a (QuickSilver exclusive!) lipogram-poem by a young wordsmith: inspired by Georges Perec and the Oulipo school, the poem only makes use of one vowel, the ‘e’ – a truly virtuousic feat.
A follower of the QuickSilver blog was moved by this to share the work of Canadian poet Christian Bök. Bök apparently dedicated seven years to producing a poem cycle, each one of the five sections of which only uses one vowel. But that’s not all: not only does he restrict himself to one vowel per chapter, he also attempts to use every word in the dictionary which contains only the vowel in question. To this end he read the dictionary a total of five times.
The series responds to a typically Oulipo-ian constraint (also reminiscent of Joyce’s Ulysses) that each chapter must ‘describe a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pastoral tableau and a nautical voyage.’
The work is called Eunoia, which is the shortest word in the language to use all the vowels. It is, as you can imagine, an extremely weird and disorientating book, but it is also very, very impressive, as we hope the following excerpts (chosen more or less at random) show:
‘Awkward grammar appals a craftsman. A Dada bard as daft as Tzara damns stagnant art and scrawls an alpha…A law as harsh as fatwa bans all paragraphs that lack an A as a standard hallmark.’
‘Fishing till twilight, I sit, drifting in this birch skiff, jiggling kingfish with jigs, bringing in fish which nip this bright string (its vivid glint bristling with stick pins).’
‘Dhows from Colombo confront monsoons – strong storms known to slosh spoom onto prows of sloops…Pods of octopods swoop down onto schools of cod to look for food: swoosh, swoosh.’
‘Dull susurrus gusts murmur hushful, humdrum murmurs: hush hush. Dusk suns blush. Surf lulls us. Such scuds hurl up cumulus suds (Sturm und Druck).’
The poet was originally christened Christopher Books. an Icelandic friend of his wrote the following addendum to Eunoi, an absolutely astonishing poem which only uses the ö of the poet’s own name (read about it here.)
We will return to the theme of absurd typographical restraints later this week…