Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Dinosaur Poem & OuLiPo Variation

Back in 2003, via the medium of a publisher’s forum, I suggested that a communal poem might be created among the forum visitors. Anyone who was interested in contributing could add a single line to what had gone before. Slowly a poem should build up that might be good or might be awful; but at least the experiment would be interesting as a pure demonstration of anarchic collaboration in action.

Nine people in total ended up getting involved in the project, namely: Nathan Blumenfeld, Rhys Hughes (me), Tamar Yellin, D.F. Lewis, Christina Sng, Jeff VanderMeer, Luis Rodrigues, Nicholas Liu and Jack Haringa.

Without any single controlling mind overseeing the theme or structure of the poem, it was inevitable that the work would deal with subject matter that is of equal significance to male and female humans from around the world (the locations of the contributors included Singapore, Portugal, Florida, Wales, Essex, Delaware and Massachusetts). There’s probably a Jungian basis for the fact that ‘Bones of the Earth’ turned out to be about... dinosaurs!

Seven years later I have rediscovered this forgotten work, and I now take pleasure in posting it here as follows:


Supine flesh, myriad cloven by yellow teeth now red,
reclining in reedy lagoons with foul volcanic breath,
dreaming of long-dead forests full of fern —
forests dreaming they re-rose from lava and mulch
and wiped their lips from a meteor's kiss.

In a fugue of history unwoven
where once their tread inspired strange topography,
they schemed with the stones of disappointed hearts,
plunged in the flesh of bygone aeons
and whispered yellow threnodies in the dried mud.

New morning flame filtered through giant dragonfly wings,
threw down a momentary iridescence,
cast a coin of gold against just one pond's death,
paying its own piper with self-minted lucre
to purchase an extinction of great value.

Once lighted on beasts strong of bone and sinew,
twice darkened on deep brains with shallow thoughts,
now sinew gone and bone like pillared salt
and centuries like pepper to season the flattened jaws
which chew the sectioned earth's compressed tracery.

And so the last resting place of our stegosaur uncle,
the dried-mud river run past Eve and Adam's
appled eyes and dappled hides and hidden scales,
by the small soft hands of his unlikely inheritors revealed
a terrible-lizard gaping awink with gold teeth!


However, that’s not the end of the matter! Once the poem was finished, it occurred to me that I might perform an OuLiPo-style transformation on it. So I applied the mechanism known as N+7 and ‘Bones of the Earth’ turned into:


Slippery flippers, mythically chased by telegraphists now redundant,
clapping in seedy lambswool and foolish volunteer’s breeches,
gesturing at short deaf forewomen full of fervour —
forewomen rotting in dreams of festoons and mulligatawny
and liqueurs distilled from metronomes and kittens.

In a forest of happenings unusual
where once their tongues invaded stout trifles,
they scampered with the stumps of disagreeable heels,
prospered in the fevers of blooming apes
and whittled yawning talismans in the dormant moon.

Nude mysterious fibber fornicated through gladly dishevelled wives,
thrust deeply a magnificent isosceles,
coiled a chain of glue around just one poppy’s design,
pinching his own peanuts with soft-monkey love
to pleasure an exhibition of gourmet vests.

Once lunched on buttocks sensible of baronets and sloths,
twice divided on dormant breath with smoky texture,
now slander gobbled and bloomers like pleated secrets
and conceits like pierrots to smite the flamboyant jackets
which certify the sensuous enterprise’s convulsed travesty.

And so the lesser rummaging populace of our spangled underpants,
the demure-mocking result run past earwigs and adulterer’s
arcane elbows and decanted hats and hectic shadows,
by the servile secret heads of his undoubted ironmongers romanced
a trouser-lamprey guffawing aloud with gross trust!


Needless to say I’m in love with OuLiPo!

Incidentally the first dinosaur painting above is by Heinrich Harder and the second is by Martin Davey.

Fantastic. I want to blog about the n+7 machine too... is that allowed?
Of course it's allowed! And in fact you've already done so! Good for you, I say!
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