August 30, 1981

they breathe
heartbeat, battery
hay –
they are theatre

try
one
abhorrent to the
bettor, one
not
jet, roar, banter
then one
beat a
baryon

another, to earn honor
on the throne

Yesterday, while poking around the internet for poetic ideas, I stumbled across a French collective called the Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle (OULIPO), the Workshop of Potential Literature. It was my first time hearing of this group, but as someone who has always enjoyed writing poetry in forms, I found myself fascinated by the fact that they just…have taken the idea of constraint as inspiration to find the audacity to decide that something is a form, and write within that form. I dropped what I was doing, took the bus to Harold Washington Library, and checked out (or put on hold) everything I could find in their catalog about OULIPO. Earlier today, I barreled through The State of Constraint.

Then, before I lost my nerve. I pulled out a pen. I borrowed their idea of the Beautiful Present — writing a poem with only the letters in a name, or a matched pair of names. I chose a matched pair, John Henry and The Bart. I added my own constraint, based on the fractions of the first Arlington Million: 25.1, 50.1, 1:15.3, 1:42.2, 2:07.3. Each digit defined the number of syllables in each line. Zeroes meant line breaks.

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