Category Archives: prisoner’s constraint

Oulipost #15: prisoner’s constraint

cons coercion

numerous remains

a caucus

economic miners

we cross

our nerves in

crease means measure

mine our cancer

us moves concerns

owe us answers

an acre in


once i saw

re: r-uncan

a minor area covers

soon can ensure resources

means answers in errors

a numerous concern, a minimum-cause,

comes in a series

or a measure, a near-recession ocean

– were as sense or season,

a reason in a maximum seem in scene

economic  as a cancer

mars means

re: mr sπicer

on a corner in a room is a common music
mine makes us examine swimmers
across series are waves
economic, numerous, or more-newsroom
we swim a cannon is no error
cancer is a minor aurora
in some voices is nerves
or a miss-weaver
or mean, even ocean

course concerns

re: ms _uest

a rare cross-economic iron

a marrow        an onion

    a mexico

soon a womans sex means six

never in common memories

none is a moon even

miners in a series

over a science

news      uses     music

acres seems as sucre

Poems were constructed from numerous articles in Seattle Times 15 April 2014 Print Replica.

Note on composition and process:

These poems were composed according to the prisoner’s constraint. According to the Oulipo, the idea of this form is to emulate some of the resourcefulness of a prisoner whose supply of paper has been restricted. In order to maximize the space, a inmate might avoid using any letters/characters that rise above or below the line (b,d,f,g,h,j,k,l,p,q,t, and y). In the extreme, I guess one might eliminate all punctuation and spaces between words as well, but I have not gone that far on these. Think of these more as poetic translations of a prisoner’s text. Stop over by the Found Poetry Review blog to read examples of other Ouliposters working in this vein.

For these poems, I started as usual, by extracting all the copy-and-pasteable text from the print replica of the Seattle Times. Because I was pretty sure this constraint was going to severely limit my diction, and because I’m still behind on my challenges, I decided not to divide the paper up, but to use the entire text of the paper as grist for the mill of these poems. I ran the text through Doug Luman’s handy Ouliposcripts, using the setting for “prisoner’s constraint.” I then stripped all the punctuation, numbers, symbols, and formatting, pasted the bulk text into the handy text analyzer at UsingEnglish (thanks to Ouliposter Jennifer Hamilton for providing a link) in order to eliminate word repetitions. Then I sorted the words by prats of speech and began composing. That sounds like a lot of work, but by now I’m a pro and it only took about an hour. I composed one poem — “cons coercion,” the title of which was a prisoner’s constraint translation of the term “prisoner’s constraint.”

I liked this poem, but as I’ve mentioned before, part of my goal with this whole project is to try and uncover potential sequences for each constraint. Then I thought, why not stretch the project rules a bit and bring in some outside texts. I had a copy of Robert Duncan’s Bending the Bow on hand, so I thought I’d play with borrowing his syntax, punctuation and line breaks — literally translating the news into poetry, but more organically than the blank verse experiment (meaning I’m using a particular meter instead of traditional one). I mad lib’d out Duncan’s “What I Saw” and then used my word pool of low-lying words from the paper. I liked this a lot, so I thought, maybe it’ll work well for other’s poet’s from the New American Poetry era. I grabbed my Jack Spicer and Barbara Guest collections and picked two more poems (though, for the life of me I forgot to note exactly which poems I used. I’ll edit them back in tomorrow). These turned out swimmingly, and I’m sure I’ll pick this thread up again next month.