Writing Prompt: OULIPO Poem

Here is an unusual poetic form to try: OULIPO

OULIPO poetry is written using unique forms of mathematical and textual structural constraints.

It began in the 1960s with the work of French mathematician Francois de Lionnais and writer Raymond Queneau. OULIPO is an acronym of Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle(OULIPO), or Workshop of Potential Literature.

There are many forms but ‘[o]ne of the most popular OULIPO formulas is “N+7,” in which the writer takes a poem [or piece of prose if you want to vary it] already in existence and substitutes each of the poem’s substantive nouns with the noun appearing seven nouns away in the dictionary. Care is taken to ensure that the substitution is not just a compound derivative of the original, or shares a similar root, but a wholly different word. Results can vary widely depending on the version of the dictionary one uses.’ (Poets.org, 2004)

‘Another OULIPO exercise uses the “snowball” technique, where the first line is one word long, the second line has two words, and so on. A snowball poem can also be made up of lines comprised of progressively longer words, in which two lines might read:

     I am far from happy Mother reduced
     A no-fly zone using yellow ribbons.’ (Poets.org, 2004)

You can find out more about it here: https://poets.org/text/brief-guide-oulipo

And here: http://www.languageisavirus.com/creative-writing-techniques/oulipo.php#.YGcX4S1Q1QI

Guardian article on OULIPO: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2013/jul/12/oulipo-freeing-literature-tightening-rules

I recently tried it to good effect.

Good luck.


The Ballad of Danny Wyse

Now gather round and let me tell
The tale of Danny Wyse
And how his sweet wife Annabelle
Did suck out both his eyes

And if I tell the story true
And if I tell it clear
There not a mortal one of you
Won’t shriek in mortal fear

Danny Wyse was a soldier
And a foolish one at that.
He deserted during battle
Blaming his soldier’s hat

He hid back home with his wife
Afraid to leave the house
In case the army took his life
Hanging him by the noose

Daily Danny raged in his chair
Thinking on wrongs long gone
As Annabelle washed her hair
Waiting for her day to come

Annabelle set her goal,
To flee him once and all
No more would he shout and scold,
She’d relieve him of his gall

She did not rise to his goad
She played upon his belief
And pretended to love his soul
And hid her bitter grief

It took three months to light her fuse
She waited quietly undercover
And took his stream of abuse
Waiting to destroy her lover

Till when she could take no more
She provoked him with abuse
Telling him what was the score
She screamed down the house

‘Get out of here you lazy man
You are a cowardly fellow
Any go and fight like your friends
You’re looking pale and yellow!’

Danny stepped up and grabbed her wrist
She turned and hit with ease
There was crack and a twist
Danny fell back displeased

Annabelle fought back with hot conviction
Stabbing him in a private place
She fought hard against affliction
Locking her teeth on Danny’s face.

She bit upon Danny’s ears then upon his pupils
Found them rather tasty.
She began to suck them out,
He cried Annabelle ‘Don’t be hasty.’

By the time she finished with him
Danny lay upon the floor.
Two empty sockets left for eyes
While Annabelle locked the door.

She left him on that dark old night
And didn’t worry for him.
She’d had her fill of Danny Wyse
And left with a happy belly.


(Based on a prompt from Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled p.200)