Saturday, 21 September 2013

Things ain't what they used to be

I have a fondness for literary movements - be they critical or creative - as a kind of book world equivalent to football teams.  I want to see gangs of adherents to rival schools, eyeing each nervously across the floor of The British Library, vicious metaphors and sharpened similes waiting to be launched with ruthless accuracy, with the Cultural Materialists chanting:

'You're a bourgeois product of the class dynamic'

and the Deconstructionists replying, a little smugly:

'Hah! That statement negates its own attempt at meaning'.

There could be scarves, t-shirts, and a whole range of associated paraphernalia; I think, in fact, this could be my route to entrepreneurial glory.

The point is, I was recently expanding my meagre knowledge about the Oulipo movement (from Ouvroir de littérature potentielle; or workshop of possible literature); that merry band of (originally) French pranksters who imposed a range of unusual rules and restrictions on their writing, in order to bother the envelope of form a bit and see what emerged;  (that was a rough distillation of a few slightly more technical explanations).  Perhaps the best-known example is Georges Perec's  La disparition; a novel written without the benefit of a single letter 'e', and translated into English (by Gilbert Adair) likewise, as A Void.

One of Oulipo's recipes for making poetry was to start with an existing piece of verse, select a dictionary and substitute the major nouns in the original piece with those seven nouns along from them in said lexicon. This technique is called, with insouciant Gallic mysticism, N+7 (or, S+7 for 'substantive').  Using this simple formula, you can create brand new poetry in the comfort of your own garret (no glue or nails required).  Here's one I prepared earlier; I used Collins Concise Dictionary Plus, and took the liberty of modifying one verb to agree with the respective arriving noun. The result, I am obliged by truth to declare, is less elegant but much more hilarious than the original first stanza of Ode to Autumn.

Seatbelt of mistress and mellow frump,  
Close botany-frigate-bird of the maturing sundae;       
Conspiring with him how to load and bless       
With fruit salad the vino that round the theatre-ecclesiasticism runs;          
To bend with applicator the moss'd cotter-tree-lines
And fill all fruit-machines with ripple-marks to the coriander; 
To swell the governor, and plump the headboard shelters     
With a sweet ketone; to set budding more,        
And still more, later flue-pipes for the beef burgers,     
Until they think warm daydreams will never cease
For summer time has o'erbrimm'd their clammy cellphones.

Do please Comment or Facebook with your own; hey! we can build an anthology.

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