Oulipost Week Three: Sestina, Haiku, and Permutations Oh My


Last week FPR staff marked the halfway point in Oulipost by rounding up some highlights of the month so far. There was a marching band. Below, we’ve each selected a few more poems from the past week for your perusal. We recommend you read these! (And also, all of the rest written by our dauntless poets). Read along by checking the comments of each daily prompt, and also by following the #Oulipost hashtag on Twitter and on Tumblr (where some of our poets reside).

Jenni’s Picks

Lachlan McKenzie, “Sonnet [after Bernadette Mayer]:  When most people think of sonnets, they think of Shakespeare and the stuffy, long-dead poets their English teachers made them read. Lachlan situates the form firmly in the 21st century with his piece that conveys what love (and love lost) looks like today. Favorite lines: “warning! you’re a grown up you’ve just spotted / the spatty landscape of dicks and haircuts.”

Lillian Necakov, “In the Woods” (in Necakov’s list of Oulipost poems here): Continuing the trend of traditional forms made new again, I really enjoyed Lillian’s sestina – a form whose repeating word scheme is hard enough to master even before the source text requirement sets in. She expertly sustains the narrative of a lost loved one over the poem’s length, achieving a repetition that never feels repetitious. Favorite lines: “You’ll find silences / in the room he loved most / teetering, like his mind was half wood / a garish machine dreaming of sparrows / bent over day / there, cobwebbed, explaining blue.”

Eugenia Hepworth Petty, “Man Accuse Man”: For our fifteenth prompt, poets tackled the “prisoner’s constraint” (sometimes called “prisoner’s dilemma”). Working only with words in her newspaper whose letters don’t extend above or beneath the line, Eugenia crafts a compelling piece on the environmental conversations gracing our newspaper headlines, with a last stanza that counts down to … well, you be the judge. Favorite lines: “warm wave mass / nino nino.”

Beth’s Picks

Thomas Hintze responds to the confabulation prompt with a quietly striking poem observing the sad goodbyes of a relationship. “The Six Steps of Relationship Closure” reads like one side of a conversation in words that may not ever reach the “you” to whom they are addressed.

In “Railroad about the Truth,” Trish Hopkinson’s response to the lescurean permutation prompt, the odd phrasing pairings brought on by the prompt create a vivid, moving world. From the opening line, we’re immersed: “The sound begins with a story—/ a ghostly, beautiful, mysterious boy. / A sound visiting evening on a rainy summer.” And regarding the trains: “We love speed. / We love their enormity / and what they say about us.” You’ll pause many times reading this poem.

Joseph Harker writes a gorgeous sestina that doesn’t read like a sestina. I found myself envious of, and fascinated by, Harker’s choice of the word “variation” for one of his end words. In “Aging Yuppies Mellow Out, Learn Russian,” we get “variation, the blissed-out state.”

Marty’s Picks

I enjoyed catching up with everyone’s poems. The Oulipo constraints and the time constraints seem to be bringing out the inventive nature in us all. Here are some poems that stood out:

 Melanie Wilson’s lescurean permutation: I enjoyed the lyric quality of this poem, the unexpected turns of the rearranged nouns and the skillful line breaks.

Judy Swann’s sestina, “Hardiboard:” As a sort of ode to the tiny house movement (and other things), this poem made me laugh out loud.

I really liked Jacqueline Valencia’s sestina, but I couldn’t resist picking her response to the homoconsonantism prompt, “Roast Wars.” At first, the poem seems nonsensical, but then you realize that it’s written in a language from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Margo Roby’s sestina, “So Many Channels, So Little Time,” is another example of an innovative use of numbers in constrained poetry.

Doug’s Picks

When writing found poetry, rarely does one think of formalism. In this week’s challenges, though, a couple were in forms – whether closed like the sestina or syllabic challenges as in the 17th of April’s haikuisation. What our Ouliposters did with them was really interesting, and I hope has provided at least some intrigue into what a formalism can offer to found poetry.

First up is Barbara Crary‘s found haiku which not only hit syllable counts, but felt so true to the contemplating, imagism of its spirit.

Though not a form in itself, Roxanna Bennett, in response to the homoconsonantism constraint, gutted all the vowels and rebuilt an open, rhyming couplet form.

And, who can forget a good sestina? Taking after Ezra Pound’s sestina interpretation, Raymond Cummings opened up a closed form a bit.


  • April 23, 2014

    Melanie Wilson


  • April 23, 2014

    margo roby

    Thank you, Marty!

  • April 23, 2014

    Eugenia Hepworth Petty

    Oh wow! Thanks Jenni! I am so glad people like what I am coming up with. I cannot wait until May, when I can really start reading people’s work more closely.

  • April 23, 2014

    Trish Hopkinson

    Thanks Beth! That’s one of my favorites for sure. I love reading these features… I’ve missed some of these long the way. Hard to read them all!

  • April 24, 2014

    Joseph Harker

    Thanks Beth! I was pretty proud of that one, glad that it was well received. :)