July 30, 2020

So, scanning this and conscious of a lack,
You scratch your nut and ask why this sad sack
Scrawls in unstylish tortuous convolutions,
Odd phrasings and absurd circumlocutions.
You’ll justly ask why I so shun normality;
Is this just wilful paradoxicality?
I know, stylistic quirks can bring confusion,
But I am battling hard against inclusion
Of various words that must not find admission,
As in that Froggy book, La Disparition.
Adair, translating this for Brits (Hard graft!)
Would call it just A Void. His skilful craft
Astounds, as struggling with his constraint,
With chutzpah, but more stubborn than a saint,
Adair triumphs. I wish I had a part
Of his command of odd Oulipian art.

7 Responses to “Alack”

  1. Liza McAlister Williams Says:

    Huzzah, George! OuLiPo, (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, roughly translated as ‘futuristic literary project’) was the brainchild of Georges Perec, who, as we have learned, wrote a whole novel avoiding the ubiquitous letter ‘e.’ Comme ci:

    So, voila! You cannot, should not, call that Parisian author and his pals by any but a strictly Oulippian tag. In crisply chopping your word salads, you must pick your radish and your carrot with aplomb: ‘un’ ou ‘trois’ ou ‘cinq,’ or ‘two’ or ‘four’ or ‘six’: avoid most words that stand for common units, which, if counting, you must skip judiciously, in anglais, francais, pidgin or pig latin, and still craft your rant, all in all, sounding colloquially normal – can you do it? Almost no pronouns; highly snobby nouns… Child’s play it ain’t!
    Ciao, Liza

  2. Bravo, Liza, on slickly avoiding that uncouth glyph.

  3. Congratulations, both of you. Your skills astound. I’m not going to try, it looks appallingly difficult to sustain for long.

  4. Thanks, Robin.
    This piece was written as an entry for a Spectator competition. No prize, but it got an honorable mention, and I thought i might as well give it an airing on the blog.
    The winners can be read here:

  5. Davina Prince Says:

    A clever piece of work, George, so in the spirit of Oulipo I’ll throw my Honourable Mention into the pot to keep it company. A little constraint does us no harm — though perhaps a step too far for a future edition of Snakeskin?

    You didn’t think you’d finish up this way
    with lockdowns going on and on until
    no words can sum up how your plodding day
    grinds all to dust within monotony’s mill.

    What good is mourning diary crossings-out?
    Can’t you, for now, focus on what brings calm —
    and don’t say no; psychologists don’t doubt
    that staying mindful is a soothing balm.

    And watchful, ditto; you won’t find a train
    alluring, masks or not, and as for shops —
    your bulging cupboardfuls will last. Again,
    why court flash fashions till this panic stops?

    Our PM’s clarion call — Go out! Don’t shirk! —
    booms at a public wary of this liar. Thus,
    instinct is right: survival’s chancy work,
    so carry on dodging coronavirus.

  6. Liza McAlister Williams Says:


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