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Oulipost Exit Interview: Oulipost Ends Where the Work Begins

Question 1:

What happened during Oulipost that you didn’t expect? What are the best (or worst) moments for you?


Well, I woke up this morning, and apparently someone has posted 120 poems to my blog this month. I’m beginning to suspect I am a character in Black Orphan. That or the GI bug that wiped me out for nearly 3 days last week was really the toxoplasmosis parasite activating and the internet cats have been taking over my body while I thought I had been sleeping. Not that I’m paranoid or anything.


Question 3:

What does your street look like?


It looks great from this café’s picture window – sunny and colorful. Did I wake up from an Oulipost dream in a new city? What happened to Seattle?


Question 4:

Who is your spirit Oulipostian?


I’ll be spending a chuck of May reading through, appreciating, and blogging on work by my fellow Oulipostians. I just couldn’t keep up with attentively reading every post this month, for obvious reasons (I had my own poems to write). That said, I will claim an interim spirit Oulipostian – Doug Luman, whose Ouliposcripts saved my time-wasting ass on more than one occasion.


Question 5:

What are the top three poems you wrote during this project?


As of 2:30pm PST on May, 1, 2014. I’m sure my thinking will fluctuate as I begin putting manuscript(s) together from all this output and source material, but I am particularly fond of:

 “once i saw” (#15: Prisoner’s Constraint)

I particularly liked the concept I landed on with these, paying homage to mid-century poets I admired. The prisoner’s constraint, in which you’re only allowed to use letters that do not rise above nor fall below the line, severely limits diction, especially when applied to found text, so it was helpful to find potential models to plug the words together into numerous variations. Plus, I got to re-admire the syntactical skill of some pretty amazing poets. This particular poem is modeled on Robert Duncan’s “What I Saw” from Bending the Bow. It’s an outstanding poem in a seminal collection, and when I make the substitutions, I can still see traces of Duncan without it sounding derivative. It really is a great play on the concept of “inspiration,” one I imagine Queneau and co would approve of. I plan on doing more of these and soon. Btw, if you’ve never read Duncan or Spicer or Guest, you must absolutely pause your screen, and find copies of their work immediately.


“Cliven” (#26: Belle Absente)

The belle absente form is a tough form, since you have to include all the letters except those in your honoree’s name, so I feel like I took a big gamble choosing infamous folks for this. I mean, what if my only meaningful compositional options wound up flattering these assholes? Thankfully, that didn’t happen here, thanks to some verbal advanced yoga moves and one deftly placed conjunction. I’m kinda proud that I not only avoided gibberish and/or unintentionally backing a bad mf, but I was able to turn this into thoughtful commentary on the source of Bundy’s infamy.


“head/line improvisations” (#18: Homoconsonantism)

Oulipean practices can often feel very impersonal, so it’s always nice when you can find a way to bring one’s own expressiveness (as illusory as that is) back into the process. Because homoconsonantisms retain a trace of the original found text — the consonants of the headlines in this case — I felt a bit of freedom to shape words around those. Plus, these turned out to be so easy to hear the music in, but then again the truncated syntax and the abundant mnemonics of headlines, usually have this effect. I only wish that the free version of WordPress weren’t so clunky with spacing. It really botched the visual sweep of these.


Question 2:

What questions do you have for your teaspoons? What questions do your teaspoons have for you?


Do they like coffee? Because, if not, man, they took one for the team this month.


Question 6:

What will you do next?


Continue writing like a mother. I have four full-length manuscripts that need to find cozy journal-and-press-homes, and that stack of newsprints inviting cockroaches and bladder-challenged animals into my bedroom needs to get transformed into framed magnet art pieces. And then, of course, the ghost of Robert Frost, who might just be the culprit who slipped that call for Ouliposters into my inbox, is still nervously awaiting his Google-translations.


Oulipost #21: confabulation

Talking Cure

“On weekends, I can make up ”
she said. “I work for my tips, not my minimum.”
“The first thing we’d have to do is reduce,” he said
“We’d look at having one less.” She said “A student?”
he said. “And working,” she said “evil
of the Sewol.”  “Green men have seized
the sites,” he said. “the photos only further
confirm this,” she said, “EMERGENCY!”
he said, “Before, hospitals were kind
of silos.” She said, “We have nothing
to indicate it was anything…”  “Other
than a tragic accident?’’ he said.
“It was a very difficult transition,” she said.
“I could play just naturally,” he said. “I didn’t
“know any of the terms,” she said.
He said, “The biggest part, was understanding.”
“Not just playing it off impulse?” She said.
“It’s all right. We’ll get out of this,” he said.
“We are much better than this,” she said.
He said, “There is no other way to feel either?”
“We know what we have going here,” she said.
He said, “It’s just a bump in the road.”
“The only way we are going to snap out of this,” she said.
“if our guys start performing?” he said.
“A little better,” she said. “It was a great
game,” he said. “But we had some opportunities,”
she said, “to get some things done.”
“And we just didn’t do it?”
he said. “What I can say is, I know
everyone is trying,” she said.
“The guys are having a harder time,” he said
“Adjusting? They’re slowly picking it up,” she said.
He said, “and trying to fix problems.”
“Every day?” she said. “And it’s working,”
he said, “I’m amazed by the things that they’ve done.”
In the past?” she said.


“God bless his tireless fight,” he said
“No one is precluded from suing us,” she said,
“merely by purchasing.” “Liking our brand
Facebook pages,” he said. “That is just
a mis-characterization,” she said,
“the email said, ‘We are announcing today that we have reverted.’”
“There is this pervasive view,” he said. “That these are dangerous?”
she said, “That’s not what the data tells us.
They said, ‘Kraft’s Oscar Mayer Wieners may
instead contain the company’s Classic Cheese.’”
“We’ve known for years we have a problem,” he said.
“Being out isn’t a very effective way to change,” she said.
He said. “I don’t think you punish anybody into doing anything.”
“It looks a little jarring,” she said. “Fractionated”
he said. Her: “Thanks will never be enough.” “It is
a process, and it takes time,” he said. “But I think
we’re on,” she said. “We want to start building
a bond” he said, adding: “It’s going to be
amazing once we get everyone here, and we start
playing our brand.” She said, “Our system’s
been introduced in everything we do.” He said. “I think
that’s all been established.” “That’s the difference,”
she said, “in everything — the details.”
He said, “We’re not detailed enough,
so that’s where we’ve got to go.”“We’re definitely on an upward
trend,” she said. “Guys are doing a good job
figuring out how to go about doing.” He said. “They didn’t
recruit as many whateverstar” She said, “but still that chemistry
aspect is so important.” “They’re able to dominate,” he said. “It’s something
we’ve never been able to witness.” She said,
“I don’t think we understand fully, but I’m excited
to see.” “We were flat to start,” he said. “In the middle
of the night,” she said “I started thinking  about what I’m going
to do.” He said, “how I’m going to defend. … Things
like that. It’s a good feeling.” “We’re capable of
playing a lot better,” she said. “But it’s just one
step,” he said. “Today’s was about as good as you
could have hoped,” she said.


He calls her “little shanty by the tracks.” “He had another
seizure the other night,” she said, “it’s like he’s in a hole
with no way out.” The other day he came in and said,
“Ain’t that a shame: I’m carrying my life around
in a backpack.” “It broke my heart,” she said
and declared, “unconditional war on poverty!”
He said, “Whole families have been wiped out
in this county: mother, father, children.” She said,
“But they get involved with drugs, and the next thing
you know, they’re getting arrested.” He said, Mama couldn’t
write, so, you know, there ain’t no names in it.” She said,
“I want to be one of the ones who gets out of here.” He said.
“I don’t want people to talk about me, with me
sitting here crying.” She said her other mommy and daddy, they don’t want her
to go. “They’re scared.” He said  “she’s going to get hurt,”
“Our politicians never really did look ahead,” she said,
“for when coal wouldn’t be king.” He said, “Therefore, we’ve fallen
flat on our face.” She said, “I had a boy in here the other day
I went to high school with. Teeth missing.” He said, You can look at them
and go, ‘He’s going to be the next to die.’ ” “I was
as backward as these kids are,” she said in the office of her school.
“We’re isolated. Part of our culture,” he said. Leaving for college,
she said, “you’d think I’d committed a crime.” “As God calls preachers,”
he said,” to preach, he calls teachers to certain
jobs.” She said. “I really believe it is my mission to do this.”
“Give these kids a chance,” he said, “Someone from Indiana,
they’re not going to live in a trailer on top of a mountain.”
“I want to be one of the ones who gets out of here,” she said
“Curtain,” he said. “Postern of Fate,”
she said. “The Big Four,” he said. “Dead
Man’s Folly,” she said. “Elephants Can
Remember” he said. “Labors
of Hercules?” she said. “Freddy,”
he said. “Independent Lens,” she said.
“Baseball?” he said. “2 Broke
Girls,” she said. “Bones,” he said.
“Castle,” she said. “The Blacklist,” he said.
“The Boondocks,” she said. “Muscle
Shoals,” he said. “Days Are
Gone,” she said. “It’s obnoxious
when you show up somewhere, “ he said,” and you’re like, ‘Cool,
I’m one woman and there are like 900.’” She said, “Being a woman
on tour, you’re kind of in a man.” He said, “It has every-
thing to do with who’s available.” ”Who’s on tour?”
She asked, “Who’s released a new record, where
there’s a ton of buzz?” He said, “If we feel
we’re getting too malecentric, we will try to address that
situation.” She said, “But it’s usually last minute when we look
at how this is balancing out.” He said, “women musicians have always been.”
“severely underrepresented,” she said. “Where the girls go,
the guys follow,” he said. “It’s terrible stereo
typing,” she said. He said, “But the people
leading the charge in going to see concerts are women.” “And women
don’t want to see other women?” She said. “They tend to want to see men
perform,” he said. “I used to walk around with my stick,”
She said. “What is that?” he said. “There’s a bunch of kids
playing,” She said. “It’s very obvious that the growth is in-
creasing over the years,” he said, “that says a lot
about community.”“That never seemed to materialize,”
She said, “so we just decided to go on our own.”

Poems were constructed from numerous articles in Seattle Times 21 April 2014 Print Replica.

Note on composition and process:

These poem are an experiment in in confabulation, conversational poems created by juxtaposing and distorting quotes from the newspaper in a kind of de-contextualized dialogue. Check out the Found Poetry Review’s blog for the official prompt, and check out other Ouliposters’ attempts at this form.

I began this exercise like nearly all the others, downloading the pdf print replica of the Seattle Times and extracting all the text, separating it according to the publication’s pagination. I then used the “find” function in Word to hunt down all text inside quotation marks and cataloging the quotes by page. I then combined all the page 1 quotes (A1, B1, C1), page 2 quotes, page 3 quotes, etc, in order, and began cutting down and breaking the quotes up into poetic lines, finally adding in alternating “he said/she said” tags. I noticed as I worked on editing and confabulating the quotes, just how vague and indeterminate much of the quoted material is in the paper, and how hypnogogic and psychologically revealing it could be, which is why I decided to treat these as poems in a sequence (there will be nine total when I finish them next month) that I titled after the colloquial reference to psychoanalysis, “Talking Cure.”

Oulipost Warmup #3: beautiful outlaws

Time for Oulipost warmup #3 with the countdown clock to NaPoMo at just 6 days. This time, I was working with a much more time-consuming form: the belle absente, or beautiful outlaw. The basic idea is similar to the lipogram, a text that excludes a particular letter. In the belle absente, you start with the name of a person (or you could use a place, thing, or idea, I suppose). For each letter in the name, you designate a line in which you will employ every letter of the alphabet except the letter from the name.

For this warm-up, I took the first name, Inez, who happened to be the subject of the main front-page article of the Seattle Times edition I purchased last Monday explicitly for these warmups. My initial goal was to use only the text of the article I pulled the name from since it was long enough to potentially contain every letter of the alphabet. On that count, I wasn’t disappointed, except that the only “z” in the article was in the name Inez, which wouldn’t work, since her name can’t logically be used. That was an easy problem to correct, as I did a quick scan for z’s in the other front page articles. The real enemy here was time — this one poem took nearly 5 hours! — however, that’s what warming up is for. Now that I’ve composed one of these, there are some time sucks I can more easily avoid.

1. For starters, I’ll need my computer and the Seattle Times website for this one. I’m pretty adept at pattern recognition, but I’m comfortable admitting that my John Henry eye can’t beat my trusty machine. And why should it? Wading through random words can be an unnecessary headache. The more interesting skill in this form is word and phonic manipulation, not spotting words without “e” in a newspaper article.

2. Having played my fair share of Scrabble, I know which letters are going to be hardest to squeeze in to the poem (z,q,j,v,k,w and f), so I realized immediately that I should simply scan the text for words with these letters, as a way to quickly narrow my word pool and maximize my word choices. The find function on MS Word worked perfectly for this.

3. My fellow Ouliposter, Doug , came up with a couple of time-saving tools for this particular form (as well as others) — a text-sorting form that can do some word pool narrowing in seconds (bravo, Doug!). That saved me a lot of time. I simply plugged my 10$ word list and generated four new sub-lists: 1 without i, 1 without n, 1 without e, and 1 without z.

4. After a few fitful starts, I realized it would be best to start with the “no-e” line, as that was the most restrictive word pool. I then worked back to n, i, and finally z. Doug rescued my afternoon again with a handy Excel spreadsheet that tracks the use of letters for a given line. Again, this is something I could have done in my notebook, but it’s far easier to just cut-and-paste to get instant feedback.

I like how the final product turned out, with the lines somewhat relating in spirit to the article, which was about local city councils limiting citizen voices in order to allow for more city business. That’s at least in part because I primarily stuck to the text of a single article. I imagine if I had more time to spend with it, I could pull the diction a little tighter in that direction, but this works well as it is, especially given that I composed it in a single morning.


For Inez, rabble-rouser of Renton

(a beautiful outlaw)

Dozens of advocates except frequent verbal jewelry, only the talk may move a handful of angry

voters to realize hurtful policy examples require wayward waifs believe their fight may just look at how

six amazing nonprofits quit giving vicious Duck Dynasty watchdogs job information,

quashed those excluded viewpoints, and publicly joined staff in duplex government slack.



In all, the digital tools are a real time saver with such an acrobatic form as this. Now that I have a solid game plan down, this whole process can be drastically expedited come the end of April when this little devil arrives for real.



Before We Begin (a brief Q&A)

IMG_2891During the month of April (2014), I will be participating in Found Poetry Review‘s annual National Poetry Month marathon. This year the project — OuLiPost — is to use daily OLliPo-an constraints to make collage poems out of that day’s edition of the  local paper, in my case, The Seattle Times. In preparation for the marathon collaging, each of us were asked to respond to a few questions. Here goes.


Well, I was brainstorming the other day about potential projects, and then I stumbled on the call for the Oulipost project. I’ve always been a big fan of the OuLiPo, and of constraint-based writing in general. I enjoy writing a lot more when I can set my agendas aside and experience the material more directly. Constraints help me to do that.


That I will likely forget bills and deadlines because I get too caught up in writing for the project. It happens. I’m sure I’ll lose lots of sleep in April. I’ll also likely need a chiropractor in early May, as I’ll need to haul my ancient, weighty laptop with me everywhere.


Collage and constraint are major parts of my practice as a poet. I have one chapbook of Jackson MacLow-type collages of people’s libraries, and three nearly finished manuscripts composed almost entirely of found material of some sort. My next major project is to do a Google translation of the Complete Poems of Robert Frost.


For the most part, I plan on using my local paper, The Seattle Times. Depending on the particular prompts, though, I might try to work in our fantastic local weekly, The Stranger.


Georges Perec. The man was amazingly prolific, yet each book employed very different styles and narrative forms. He wrote an entire novel without using the letter “e” and still managed to make it as readable as a beach novel. He has a psudo-scientific report on the effectiveness of throwing tomatoes at opera singers. Oh, and the lists. His writing is a hoarder’s delight.

Every day in April, I will be posting a new poem. Check back in each day to see what fun forms stumble out of the Times.