“in every hubbub of mass / there’s rotation for an intimacy”

…lines from The Great Archivist’s / Cloudy Quotient, my new on-line chapbook of N + 7 poems at Beard of Bees Press. 

Thanks to Eric Elshtain for publishing it!

(The image to the left, a kind of “virtual cover” I just made for the chapbook, is the symbol for one of ten night lines from Pamplona City Transport…electronic graffiti was made with picnik.com.)

Here’s the chapbook’s afterword that further explains the project (no need to worry about a “spoiler alert”):

The poems collected here were doctored, defamiliarized, re-mixed, and transmogrified by the Oulipian operation known as “N + 7,” an algorithm that has been employed by poets from Harry Mathews to Harryette Mullen. According to the Oulipo Compendium, the rules of the procedure (which was invented by Jean Lescure) are as follows:

“It is…necessary to choose a text and a dictionary. Nouns in the text are then identified, and each is replaced by counting seven nouns beyond it in the specified dictionary…With classical poetry, metre and rhyme can either be ignored or respected.”

Think of the method as dressing up the poem’s original rhetorical skeleton in new mutant flesh. Or a nerdier, more mechanical version of Mad Libs. 

The principle of selection for these texts was fairly simple: I wanted poems with cardinal numbers in their titles—from one to seven.  Since I wanted the most familiar or recognizable poems as possible, I culled most of them from anthologies such as The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry and The Library of America’s American Poetry: The Twentieth Century.  And because I was shooting for a “lo-fi” sound, I mainly worked with smaller dictionaries: a pocket Latin-English dictionary from my high-school days and a slightly thicker Merriam Webster’s Spanish-English dictionary. 

Before embarking on this series of experiments, I was under the naïve impression that N + 7 turned every source text into a parody; I probably had in mind how Harry Mathews, in respecting the rhyme and meter of “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” turned Wordsworth’s “daffodils” into “imbeciles.”  But I was surprised by the results.  N + 7 nicely complemented the deliberate pacing of the Stevens poems and, to my mind, the new poems came off as, not parodies, but homages.  And I found the end of the re-mixed Yeats poem to be genuinely beautiful. 

I was also pleased how N + 7 brought out the coercive nature of Lawrence’s dramatic monologue and the image of “a delicate chandelier of knives” seemed like something out of Tim Burton.  And who would have ever thought that Stanley Kunitz (+ 7) could sound like Dean Young?   

I insist that N + 7 constitutes an alternative reading practice—something not unlike what Reuben Brower has called “reading in slow motion”—that the time spent thumbing through the dictionary and counting nouns is not time wasted but rather offers a flickering window through which we can glimpse the other life of language. 

Also check out Louis Bury’s “doubled” statement on the N+7 form in LIES/ISLE 3.

~ by Michael Leong on June 22, 2010.

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