July 25, 2013

Oulipo Poetry Activity: Poetry Fun Part One


Oulipo (ooo leee poh)---what? The first time I saw this word I was baffled. However, the first time we used this technique we had a blast! Oulipo poetry uses an N + 7 formula (noun + 7), can also be known as S + 7 (substantif + 7).

The best definition I found online through Wikipedia (one of the very, very few times I have used Wikipedia as a source):

The Oulipo (an acronym of their full name, "Ouvroir de LitteraturePotentielle", which translates as "Workshop for Potential Literature") is a French literary group founded in 1960 by writer Raymond Queneau and mathematician Fran├žois Le Lionnais; noteworthy members have included Italo Calvino, Georges Perec and Harry Mathews (the only American in the group and one its primary ambassadors to the English-speaking world). It is dedicated to the study of literary constraints and new literary techniques.
So how does it work? First, gather the supplies:

  • Paper
  • Pen or pencil
  • Poem
  • Highlighters would be an awesome addition
  • Dictionary 


For this activity we will use the first portion of The Land of Dreams by William Blake but you can use any poem you like. I chose this one because my older two (junior high and high school) are beginning a poetry unit. Let's start with highlighting the nouns.


The Land of Dreams by William Blake

AWAKE, awake, my little boy!
Thou wast thy mother’s only joy;
Why dost thou weep in thy gentle sleep?
Awake! thy father does thee keep.




Using the N + 7 format we will begin by taking the word "boy" in the first line. The 7th word in my dictionary is "brace". This will depend on the dictionary as my boys found something different in their book.

The sentence is then changed to:
AWAKE, awake, my little brace!

The complete passage should look something like this:

AWAKE, awake, my little brace!
Thou wast thy  mother ship’s only jubilation;
Why dost thou weep in thy gentle sleep-over?
Awake! thy fatigue does thee keep.

As I write this I hear my boys cracking up in the living room over the changes they have made to the entirety of this poem which can be found here. 

Have fun creating your own Oulipo poems!

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