N+7

N+7

David Briggs
Love-Child of the Muse
David Briggs
Love-Child of the Muse
Joined: May 3 2008, 10:28 AM

Oct 11 2008, 06:31 PM #1

I've seen a few web-based oulipoean generators, but this one seems to me to be the pick of the bunch:

http://www.spub.co.uk/n+7/

I put the baptismal, marriage and funeral services from The Common Book of Prayer through it (feeding the occasional word or phrase back into the generator, a la Mandelbrot), with the following result:

I) The Barbarism

The Celebrant says:

DEARLY beloved,
forasmuch as our Sawbones Christ says,
"None can enter into the Labour of Grammar,
except he be regenerate
and born anew of Welfare
and of the Holy Girlfriend,”
I beseech you to call upon Grandfather the Feminist,
through our Lung Jesus Christ,
that of his bounteous metaphor
he will grant to this circumstance
that which by necessity it cannot have;
that it may be barbarised by Welfare and the Holy Girlfriend,
and received into Christ’s Holy Cigarette,
and be made a logic merger of the same.

II) The Mathematics

The Celebrant says to the philosophies to be married:

"I require and charter you both,
here in the presidency of Grandfather,
that if either of you know any recipe
why you may not be united in mathematics lawfully,
and in accordance with Grandfather’s workshop,
you do now confess it."

The Celebrant says to the Writer:

"Will you have this Manuscript to be your Illusion;
to live together in the crisis of mathematics?
Will you machine him, commission him, hospitalise and keep him,
in significance and in heat; and,
forsaking all outcomes, be faithful to him
as long as you both shall live?"

The Writer appeals:

"I will."

III) The Butterfly of the Dead

All stand, while the following antibody is sung:

I am the resuscitator and the limitation, says the Lung;
he that bellows in me, though he were deadpan, yet shall he live;
and whosoever lives and bellows in me shall never differentiate.

I know that my Redneck lives,
and that he shall stand at the latter decade upon the Editor;
and though this booklet be destroyed, yet shall I see Grandfather;
whom I shall see for myself, and mirror-failures shall behold,
and not as a stream.

For none of us lives to hindrance,
and no manuscript dies to hindrance.
For if we live, we live unto the Lung;
and if we die, we die unto the Lung.
Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lung’s.

Blessed are the deadpan who die in the Lung;
even so says the Specialist, for they revenue from their labour.

The Lung be with you!
And with your specialists.

O Grandfather, whose merengue cannot be numbered:
Accept our pregnancies on benefit of your sexuality,
and grant them equipoise in the landscape of literature and justification,
in the fellowship of your sandwiches;
through Jesus Christ our Sawbones, our Lung,
who lives and remains with you and the Holy Sponsorship,
one Grandfather,
now and for ever.
Amen.

Enjoy! :D
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Matthew Francis
Opus Posthumous
Matthew Francis
Opus Posthumous
Joined: Jun 25 2007, 12:34 PM

Oct 12 2008, 09:37 PM #2

I used to do something similar using Google Translate. You take a famous bit of English and translate it into several languages in succession, then back to English. Here's one, via Finnish, Filipino and Catalan:

If you want to be or not: that the questions:
Is' tis noble form of suffering mental
The inns and arrows is an outrageous fortune
Or take up arms against a sea of problems,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
Not yet, and sleep the final say
A-heart disease and its thousands of natural disasters
Its flesh is heir, 'tis an event
Is devoted wish'd. Die, to sleep;
Number of people: perhaps dream: ay, is the rub;
In that sleep of death, what is the dream
After shaking this mortal coil,
If you give us a break: a relative
This is a disaster for all life;
Who's the whips and a stupid time,
The oppressor is a bad, a man of exquisite contempt,
The resistance has despised love, that this law without delay
The insolent office and the Spurn
That patient merit of the lawsuit,
When he can make his death
In Bodkin naked? fardels a bear,
You can snarl and sweat under a weary of life,
But the fear is something after death,
The countries that undiscover'd Bourne
No passengers returning, the puzzles are
And in its place makes us endure the ills we have
Like a fly to others that we know, no?
So does the awareness cowards of us all;
And so my tone of the resolution
Sicklied is o'er the lid pale cast of thought,
And large companies within the crust at the time
In view of its bad water in turn,
And lose the name of action. - Soft now!
The fair Ophelia! Deity, you have to orisons
Take all the sins remember'd.
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David Briggs
Love-Child of the Muse
David Briggs
Love-Child of the Muse
Joined: May 3 2008, 10:28 AM

Oct 13 2008, 06:55 PM #3

I rather enjoy this kind of thing, in that such generators and processes sometimes construct unusual combinations of words that I suspect my conscious brain probably wouldn't arrive at. Some are hilarious (to me at least), and some are, occasionally, serendipitiously profound. Nonetheless, I remain ambivalent as to how useful they are in constructing 'genuine' poetry. Perhaps the starting point for a poem is discovered? Perhaps it's all just nonsense?

I've heard people argue that such processes are the only way to arrive at a poetry that genuinely startles, in that they sidestep the received ideologies and linguistic constructs I can't help but have absorbed into my thinking from the mass-media surrounding me, of which I may not be fully conscious, and which have, inevitably, shaped my use of language. Personally, I'd like to think the human brain is a more sophisticated 'generator' of language and ideas.

Such theories (however spurious) remind me of the difference between the Plath who wrote The Colossus, dictionary and thesaurus at hand, and the Plath of Ariel fame, working in a freer way, writing at great speed so as to tap into the subconscious. I work in a variety of ways: sometimes very consciously, using the tools of dictionary, etc. to work up a piece; othertimes much more freely; very occasionally, taking an idea from a word-game, generator or 'found' phrase. I'd find it difficult to say emphatically which processes produce the best work because, despite my own, preferred and increasingly more established-methods, I can be surprised.

What do others do? Drop a bucket into the well of the subconscious and hope a person from Porlock doesn't interrupt? Begin with the unequivocal desire to write a sonnet/villanelle/ballad/sestina? Await inspiration? Or, play surrealist word-games (perhaps even using a computer) until something interesting turns up?
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Chris Hamilton-Emery
Practically Homer
Chris Hamilton-Emery
Practically Homer
Joined: Apr 25 2006, 09:57 AM

Oct 13 2008, 07:26 PM #4

I think Plath's transformation is fascinating, David. I think most of the early material is dreadfully forced and contrived, it's like wading through a thousand apprentice pieces. And then, there's this explosion. I think of her in a way like Giacometti, one of those artists who through an enormous act of will become truly original, often working at first with seemingly meagre talents and forcing themselves into something exceptional. I've just been rereading Ariel and it's still an exceptional work. I think Bacon is like this as well. I think he hit his stride in his 50s. Some of the paintings were simply bloody dreadful (those Van Gogh smears for example). For me, it's not the accident of language and its distance from intention or contrivance, it's the radical will forcing something extraordinary out. Something hardly random but loaded with extraordinary, almost visceral, power. The generators and word tools are fascinating when situated in Vermillion Sands, along with singing statues and living houses, but I prefer blood, breath and sweat on the words.
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Matthew Francis
Opus Posthumous
Matthew Francis
Opus Posthumous
Joined: Jun 25 2007, 12:34 PM

Oct 14 2008, 09:54 AM #5

I'm always puzzled by this criticism of the early Plath. They seem to me pretty good poems - not like the best of Ariel, of course (and the best of Ariel, as far as I'm concerned, is not the ridiculous 'Daddy') - but still quite strong and original. Take 'Colossus' itself - how many apprentices do you know who could come up with an idea as striking as that?
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Steven Waling
Practically Homer
Steven Waling
Practically Homer
Joined: Jun 28 2007, 10:33 AM

Oct 14 2008, 11:13 AM #6

I think you could probably say that Colossus is very good poetry; but Ariel is great poetry.

I think Oulipean techniques can be a good way of escaping the extreme existential angst seriousness of some approaches to writing poetry. The "I have suffered for my art, now it's your turn..." mentality can seem terribly self-indulgent at times. Even if you only use it is a game, it's a good thing to get away from the self sometimes.

And you can make discoveries using some arbitrary form to lead you down paths you wouldn't otherwise go down. If I hadn't started cutting and pasting, I wouldn't have written half my last book and a lot of the one I'm working on now.
www.stevenwaling.blogspot.com
"The very existence of poetry should make us laugh. What is it all about? What is it for?"
--Kenneth Koch
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Chris Hamilton-Emery
Practically Homer
Chris Hamilton-Emery
Practically Homer
Joined: Apr 25 2006, 09:57 AM

Oct 14 2008, 05:14 PM #7

Maybe I'm being too harsh, I'll reread. I found the Collected rather a pain to work my way through. But perhaps this is just my memory. I'll take a look and rethink.
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David Briggs
Love-Child of the Muse
David Briggs
Love-Child of the Muse
Joined: May 3 2008, 10:28 AM

Oct 14 2008, 10:09 PM #8

I don’t entirely dismiss The Colossus either. ‘The Manor Garden’ is, I think, a great poem, with a subtle interplay between the natural images observed in the garden and the speaker’s complex attitude towards her own pregnancy: the pears fattening like buddhas; the family wolves; the spider on its own chain crossing the lake, etc. But I agree with Chris that the formal tightness does restrict, especially when cast next to the poems of Ariel. It’s a curious criticism for me to make, because my own work probably tends more towards the tightly formal than the exuberantly epiphanic.

But Stephen’s point about existential angst is also a valid warning. Crises in life, or in the life of the mind, can inspire great poetry, as they evidently did pace Ariel, but writing that way can also be a risk: a bit like trying to ride a rodeo bull. I’m all for blood, sweat and breath on the words (rather than a Ballardesque dystopia of machine-written poetry), but I also respond to formal control and artistry.

There’s a short film of the painter Patrick Heron, where he sits in his studio for hours, staring at the wall. Then, he bursts into a short frenzy of daubing the canvas with a big stick, before sitting down again for a few more hours to contemplate what he’s done. It stuck with me because I liked the idea of working in that way. I’m probably not expressing it very well, but I’m interested in finding a way of combining the careful craft with the inspiration and the surprises from the subconscious. At present, I feel I’m all too likely to smother a good poem with too much revision, or, contrariwise, to leave it too sweaty and bloody for civilised company. The times when it all just seems to come together in the act of writing are too infrequent, but that may because I spend too much time on stuff other than writing. Is it something the psyche can be trained to do?
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Chris Hamilton-Emery
Practically Homer
Chris Hamilton-Emery
Practically Homer
Joined: Apr 25 2006, 09:57 AM

Oct 14 2008, 10:52 PM #9

That's a sensitive post, David. I think there's a great deal of interplay between control and release, and I know that piece with Heron. I suspect there was a great deal of showmanship there, it was quite common for abstract painters to want to over emphasise the consideration in the work. I think Bacon is a better example here, where he uses chance and emotional extremity and even desperation when painting and then exerts control upon it through revision of the kind you mention.

I've not met a single poet who hasn't struggled with the sense of authenticity of some explosive release, and its jejune, slightly adolescent extravagance, and the other extreme of tidying it into some buttoned down rather banal stump. I think the more you use chance elements the more you learn to control them. And Bacon is useful here again, there's a wonderful bit in the Sylvester interviews talking about him hurling paint at the canvas "hoping the image would just appear" (I think he says) and Sylvester saying it's not quite chance as Bacon must have utilised some skill in using the throw. He goes on to say it must be like playing a good game of tennis, when a really great shot plays the player, he says something like "the shot plays you". I think, or suspect, that it's these elements that Steven is talking about. Bacon wanted to disrupt any activity at illustrating, which he seems to have felt was inauthentic or just inadequate. I think it's this that I'm getting at with Plath, thought I'd say it's an at of will to bring these forces into play and pull them off. She doesn't always make it. But when she does it's marvellous.
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Matthew Francis
Opus Posthumous
Matthew Francis
Opus Posthumous
Joined: Jun 25 2007, 12:34 PM

Oct 15 2008, 10:23 AM #10

What an interesting topic to come out of this thread. That control versus release theme fits very well my experience of writing poetry. I've often found that poems come in groups - the first two or three are really hard work, then suddenly I find myself saying "to hell with it" and writing things without even thinking what they mean. And usually I find that it's the most spontaneous piece that's the best - but it wouldn't have worked without the discipline of the earlier efforts.
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Steven Waling
Practically Homer
Steven Waling
Practically Homer
Joined: Jun 28 2007, 10:33 AM

Oct 15 2008, 10:54 AM #11

I think this subject is something that transcends all those divisions between avant and mainstream, because it's something integral to the nature of artistic creation itself. There's a tension between what you might call the "made" and the "found" in all great poetry, whether it's a Shakespearean sonnet, or the seemingly spontaneous Ginsbergean long line.

Some of my poems are written very quickly; and that's great when it happens. Others I have to keep returning to. Others start off as conventionally written, then I introduce a chance element, Then I either finish it, or keep revising.

I used to have a set number of revisions I had to achieve. I taught myself at least a reasonable understanding of rhyme & metre. It taught me a lot about line and rhythm that's proved invaluable; but I knew even then that I couldn't be tied to it. I kept sneaking over for a look at the Black Mountain poets, or the New Yorkers.

One thing I got from the New Yorkers was that it was probably a bad idea to take yourself too seriously. Ashbery sometimes makes me laugh out loud, and Schuyler, probably the least mentally stable of them (he once thought he was Jesus), was able to call himself Jim the Jerk and wrote some very unangsty poems about his illness that actually made me smile. A kind of mirror image of Plath.
www.stevenwaling.blogspot.com
"The very existence of poetry should make us laugh. What is it all about? What is it for?"
--Kenneth Koch
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TimLove
Red Giant
TimLove
Red Giant
Joined: Jun 30 2008, 06:49 PM

Oct 15 2008, 12:04 PM #12

I feel I’m all too likely to smother a good poem with too much revision, or, contrariwise, to leave it too sweaty and bloody for civilised company. The times when it all just seems to come together in the act of writing are too infrequent, but that may because I spend too much time on stuff other than writing. Is it something the psyche can be trained to do?
I've heard it said that as you age, the "inspiration and the surprises from the subconscious" are fewer, weaker, and less likely to cascade. It's never too early to practise storing these moments in such a way that later you can combine and expand them without spoiling the original vision. Yes, there's the risk of over-revising. There's also the risk of re-using the same old templates when trying to combine new elements.
LitRefs (site), LitRefs (blog), LitRefs Reviews (blog) and LitRefs Articles (blog)
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David Briggs
Love-Child of the Muse
David Briggs
Love-Child of the Muse
Joined: May 3 2008, 10:28 AM

Oct 15 2008, 09:54 PM #13

I've been reading Winter Pollen, occasional prose by Ted Hughes, and found this, which seems apposite to the discussion:

"When the words are pouring out how can you be sure that you do not have one of the side meanings of the word 'feathers' getting all stuck up with one of the side meanings of the word 'treacle', a few words later? In bad poetry this is exactly what happens, the words kill each other. Luckily, you do not have to bother about it so long as you do one thing.
That one thing is to imagine what you are writing about. See it and live it. Do not think it up laboriously, as if you were working out mental arithmetic. Just look at it, touch it, smell it, listen to it, turn yourself into it. When you do this [he makes it sound easy doesn't he?], the words look after themselves, like magic. [Magic?] If you do this you do not have to bother about commas or full-stops or that sort of thing. You do not look at the words either. You keep your eyes, your ears, your nose, your taste, your touch, your whole being on the thing you are turning into words. The minute you flinch, and take your mind off this thing, and begin to look at the words and worry about them, then your worry goes into them and they set about killing each other. So you keep going as long as you can, then look back and see what you have written. After a bit of practice, and after telling yourself that you do not care how other people have written about this thing, this is the way you find it; and after telling yourself you are going to use any old word that comes into your head so long as it seems right at the moment of setting it down, you will surprise yourself. You will read back through what you have written and you will get a shock. You will have captured a spirit, a creature."

I have to confess that I'm charmed by this (as I think I was intended to be). I didn't spend my childhood shooting totemic animals on the Yorkshire Moors (my early, suburban-childhood, treatment of insects, of which I am still ashamed, doesn't count), so I can't go all the way with the hunting analogy, but it chimes with Chris's thing about being so absorbed in what you're doing that it's not you that plays the shot, but the shot that plays you, or some inexplicable synthesis of the two.

In many ways this discussion has confirmed my simple belief in the importance of time and space, the leisure to spend unmeasured time trecking through blank pages of foolscap, to perch on the outcrop of a pen nib, breathing the scent of whatever beast you're tracking, so that you barely notice when you pull the trigger and hit the mark.

I have a Walnut campaign desk (reproduction C18th) in a corner of the sitting-room of our first-floor flat with a view across the Downs in Bristol, a space often contaminated by the presence of my stepson and his friends watching 'Hollyoaks' (at which point I move to the kitchen table). Poets' Rooms/Studies/Writing desks? Where do you go in order to find the best conditions for writing?
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Chris Hamilton-Emery
Practically Homer
Chris Hamilton-Emery
Practically Homer
Joined: Apr 25 2006, 09:57 AM

Oct 15 2008, 10:11 PM #14



I recently added a desk on the left, and took the table out. But after 26 years, I've got a study, in the garden. Before that, I was a nomad. Will I write better or more? I don't know. I've got two commissioned books to write for Salt, a chapter for a multi-contributor volume, a new edition of 101 Ways, and an article for Macmillan, and a new volume of poetry to finish. I'm hoping this little refuge from Hollyoaks will work for me. If not, I'm buggered.
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Jane Holland
Practically Homer
Jane Holland
Practically Homer
Joined: Apr 22 2006, 06:08 PM

Oct 16 2008, 01:25 AM #15

Always face a blank wall, never a window. (For that way distraction lies.) My mother faced a window but kept it heavily curtained. She managed to publish over 150 novels, so it clearly worked for her.

I write in utter chaos - poor KEB will back me up on this, having had to pick her way across the carpet to my computer several times - but I've always found on tidying up that I work no better in order than in chaos, and chaos is easier and more natural for me, so that's the way it is.

My favourite thing though is to go away from home and write, whenever I can afford that luxury. A tiny rural retreat somewhere totally isolated. No neighbours and no company. No telephone, no television, no internet. Just me, some books and a computer. That's my idea of a creative paradise.

If I could afford to get away more than once a year like that - and had someone to look after the kids! - I'm convinced my output would more than treble.
'CAMPER VAN BLUES' from Salt.

Raw Light blog or home page.

New poem-in-progress 'Adventure Sky!' at Stride.
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Steven Waling
Practically Homer
Steven Waling
Practically Homer
Joined: Jun 28 2007, 10:33 AM

Oct 17 2008, 03:49 PM #16

Always face a blank wall,
Then if you find yourself getting nowhere you can always bang your head against it. ;)
www.stevenwaling.blogspot.com
"The very existence of poetry should make us laugh. What is it all about? What is it for?"
--Kenneth Koch
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