Since its inception in Paris in 1960, the OuLiPo — ouvroir de littérature potentielle, or workshop for potential literature — has continually expanded our sense of what writing can do. It’s produced, among many other marvels, a detective novel without the letter e (and a sequel of sorts without a, i, o, u, or y); an epic poem structured by the Parisian métro system; a story in the form of a tarot reading; a poetry book in the form of a game of go; and a suite of sonnets that would take almost 200 million years to read completely.

Here, we gladly present some excerpts — along with the corresponding explanations — of some pieces found in our newest release , All That Is Evident Is Suspect, edited by Daniel Levin Becker and Ian Monk.

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A Sinologist, Michèle Métail brought to the Oulipo a perspective on eastern poetic traditions along with other formal innovations such as the watermark, which, like the oscillatory poem, surrounds an often absent word or concept with a penumbra of semantic associations.

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The constraint applied in these “Fifty Oscillatory Poems” is inspired by the practice of “parallelism” in far-Eastern poetry, which compels lines to respond to one another in echo, term by term. Oppositions and complementarities are rarely semantic, but more often symbolic. In attempting to adopt a less subjective stance, I have chosen to work with antonyms and synonyms, difficult though these notions are to define. For instance, some dictionaries suggest metropolis or city as an antonym for desert; I think of the desert as defined by its absence of vegetation rather than its absence of buildings, so I prefer notions such as forest or copse. Moreover, most words do not have antonyms, particularly those that belong to the domain of concrete things. Finally, I have voluntarily avoided classical oppositions like good/bad or black/white, and never used the same word twice.

Each poem is a quatrain in which each line is a group:

adjective + noun or past participle + noun

to the exclusion of all other words (verbs, pronouns, etc.). Each poem obeys the structure:

N: noun
A1: antonym of noun S: synonym of noun A2: antonym of noun

A1 and A2 are synonyms; S is an antonym of A1 and A2.

It is interesting to note that the juxtaposition of an adjective will sometimes reinforce the opposition of synonym and antonym, and sometimes, conversely, destroy it.

steep gulf
accessible summit
abrupt precipice
easy peak

arid projection
clammy recess
dried relief
humid cavity

sensual apogee
ascetic perigee
carnal zenith
austere nadir

hasty pall
slow star
prompt cloud
resting planet

indecisive daring
voluntary hindrance
uncertain ease
resolute bother

immediate succession
postponed simultaneity
imminent continuation
delayed concomitance