Category Archives: my writing

Oulipost #17: Haikuisation

Little Beads of Grit

tiny plastic particles
a gentle scrubbing
in rivers and lakes
slip through sewage system filters
particles so small
fish, other wildlife
absorb toxic chemicals
mistake them for food

 Source: Michelle Manchir and Taylor Goldenstein. “State targets tiny beads: Skin cleanser ingredient poses ecological risks”. Chicago Tribune. 17 April 2014: 1.


Mount Thorium

boat slips on river
gauze soaked radioactive
sandy leftovers

Source: Michael Hawthorne. “Just off Mag Mile sits city’s toxic past: Radioactive waste from early 1900s dogs Streeterville”. Chicago Tribune. 17 April 2014: 1.


The prompt:
The haiku is a Japanese poetic form whose most obvious feature is the division of its 17 syllables into lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. Haikuisation has sometimes been used by Oulipians to indicate the reduction of verses of normal length to lines of haiku-like brevity. Select three sentences from a single newspaper article and “haiku” them.

Author note: I handled this prompt two different ways. For the first, I reduced each of  the three sentences I selected into a separate haiku. For the second, I reduced each of the three selected sentences into a line in one haiku. I think the second method was more successful overall, but had a hard time doing this with my first article without eliminating the serious environmental issues it concerned.

In general I’ve tended towards lighter articles as my sources this month, as these techniques feel too playful to apply to more serious articles.  Just my bias, I’m sure, as I’ve seen my fellow Ouliposters use these techniques to create profound poems from heavy subjects. But in my hands, the results just seem to be disrespectfully absurd.

Oulipost #15: Prisoner’s Constraint

Remains in Camera

A man in our arm.

We are in a mosaic,
a new us.
We service in scenes —
a user in me, over wise.
We wave our incense  in error.
Our Zen is over,
In memories, a room.
Cousins on Mass in sermon service.
I was no communion.
Our wine: We were communion.
We were None.

We’re in movies,
an occasion,
we’re a reason in common,
worse, so mean.

No I in a room.
Come as I came.
Sworn in swear,
on our mission as a success.
Never so in common.

I was on mirrors eerie.
Consciousness science versus neuroscience.
Mere viewers
examine sense over course,
arm in never.



Galanes, Philip. “Power Players: Nancy Pelosi and Julia Louis-Dreyfus discuss politics, celebrity and women at the top”. Chicago Tribune, digitalPLUS magazine. 15 April 2014: 3.

Huppke, Rex W. “New phrase that’s bound to pay in Age of Selfies”. Chicago Tribune. 15 April 2014: 2

Zeitchik, Steven. “Thinking outside the brain: ‘Transcendence’ has major processing power behind storyline about artificial intelligence”.  Chicago Tribune. 15 April 2014: Arts + Entertainment, 1.

The prompt:
Imagine a prisoner whose supply of paper is restricted. To put it to fullest use, he will maximize his space by avoiding any letter extending above or below the line (b, d,f,g,h,j,k,l,p,q,t and y) and use only a,c,e,m,n,o,r,s,u,v,w,x and z. Compose a poem using only words that can be made from these letters AND which you source from your newspaper text.

Oulipost #14: Column Inches


3 Workplace Future Presence April 26,
Selling all culture On pedestal Fairfax, Iowa
Walls @
Original Coke PowerPoints/Screens NO FORM (Large),
WWII Armed Companies Spider/Teleconferencing
Devices (Large), Yard Luxury, Metaphor/Office Building
Robot Facial Cues, Classic/Vintage Enthusiast/Gender/
User Designs, Hanging Person Brainstorming Walls,
Sensors, Human Sewn Skype Cues, Experience Related,
Facility Related Cues, Interaction & Image Design,
Pets, Workers, Experiences, Fidelity, Van Briggle,
Roseville, Strangeness Modern, Painted Counterpart,
Vintage Distances and Hallways, Meetings, Talent
Vacuum, Barnster Software, Attempt, & Indian
Colleague Telecomm.



Huppke, Rex W. “I, robot employee: New ‘telepresence robots’ could help us telecommute more efficiently, and it could happen sooner than you think”. Chicago Tribune. 14 April 2014: Business, 2.

Merchandise classifieds. Chicago Tribune. 14 April 2014: Business, 8.

The prompt:
Refer to the advertising section or the classifieds in your source newspaper. Create a poem by replacing all of the nouns in your chosen ad segment or classified listing with nouns from one article in the same newspaper. You may use multiple ads/classifieds, presented in the order of your choosing.

Oulipost #13: Epithalamium


in pain, a test.
take it.

training in a granite rink,
cancer eaten.

start engineering a piece —
entire areas
in green springs.

an age


get near —

it’s air in a star.
see it.



Reynolds, Jessica. “In sickness and in health: Grim diagnosis delayed wedding but strengthened a bond”. Chicago Tribune. 13 April 2014: Life + Style, 6.

Weigel, Jenniffer. “A dress to remember:WWII vet’s bridal gown indelibly linked to her wartime experience”. Chicago Tribune. 13 April 2014: Life + Style, 7.

The prompt:
An Oulipian epithalamium, or marriage song, is one composed exclusively with the letters of the names of bride and groom (bride and bride, groom and groom, etc). Visit the engagement or wedding announcements section of your newspaper and select a couple. Write a poem using only words that can be made with the letters in their name. You may choose to use first names only if you prefer anonymity or full names if you’re desperate for more letters.

Oulipost #12: Sonnett

Headfirst into a world of car chases,
and multiple twists and unforeseen
man-eating praying mantises —
And, voila, boredom disappears!
The once-comfortable industry,
umbrella beneath which people can strive,
starry climb to the top of his field,
has turned into a fast slide.
Stories about amorous vampires
or dystopian death matches
may begrudge the fact that their lives,
their allotted time on the planet,
butts heads with shorter attention spans,
to make their outsides match.



Heppermann, Christine. “Books for the young adult”. Chicago Tribune. 12 April 2014: 14.

Memmott, Carol. “Publish and perish: In his follow-up to ‘The Expats,’ author Chris Pavone offers a compelling bit of intrigue set in cutthroat book industry”. Chicago Tribune. 12 April 2014: 12.

The prompt:
Write a sonnet sourced from lines found in newspaper articles. You may choose your own sonnet type ( Examples here) and should feel free to be creative with the rules. One known Oulipo variation is “sonnets of variable length,” in which one must compose a sonnet in which the lines are either as short as possible or as long as possible.

Oulipost #11: Univocalism

Birds with Fish

right in with his birds
wild birds
in which birding is his sight
singing in birds
this is his intrinsic birding,
in night

“I think,
bird thinks,
I with bird —

light —
fish —
light —
still in mind,


in big vivid bits
pink light
light in light

fish still

30 blind fish

fish wind light
in his film

fish minds light

in his

in his



Brotman, Barbara. “Bird-watching with an expert:  Author-illustrator turns trail guide for small band of enthusiasts”. Chicago Tribune. 11 April 2014: 4.

Hayes, John. “The truth behind trout eyesight”. Chicago Tribune digitalPLUS magazine. 11 April 2014: 14.

Lodge, Guy.Brothers wrestle with death, angst”. Chicago Tribune. 11 April 2014: Arts + Entertainment, 4.

The prompt:
A univocalic text is one written with a single vowel. It is consequently a lipogram in all the other vowels. If he had been univocally minded, Hamlet might have exclaimed, “Be? Never be? Perplexed quest: seek the secret!” All words used must be sourced from your newspaper.

Oulipost #10: Snowball


























Harris, Melissa. “A George Lucas museum in Chicago? Emanuel keen on project as San Francisco plan stalls”. Chicago Tribune. 10 April 2014: 1.

The prompt:
This procedure requires the first word of a text to have only one letter, the second two, the third three, and so on as far as resourcefulness and inspiration allow. The first word of a snowball is normally a vowel: in English, a I or O.

From your newspaper, select a starting vowel and then continue adding words of increasing length from the same source article or passage. Challenge yourself further by only using words in order as you encounter them in the text.

Oulipost #9: Headlines (Variation of Jean Queval’s “Cent Ons”)

(Dogs and cats and a moneymaking machine)

Spices are the mystery of life,
Saying thank you

Not another swig of that diet soda!
But why?

Secret Service stiffens drinking rules,
shakes up personnel:
Women see more benefits.

Gadgets for a good night’s sleep
Brain’s filter
lets eyes see
what isn’t there.

you take the leap
to speak.

A scientific solution ahead for conservative crowd?
Experts want paradigm shift on gauging risk

Not speaking of silliness …
No stars? Check. Still winning? Check.

(Procrastination wins the prize on ‘That’s Pathetic!’)

City Hall, back to you.



All headlines from the Chicago Tribune, 9 April 2014, by authors:
Judy Peres, John Kass, Vikki Ortiz, Carol D. Leonnig, Peter R. Orszag, Eric Zorn, Motoko Rich, Karsten Strauss, Kirsten Weir, Dana Stevens, Charles Wallace, David Haugh, Paul Sullivan, Meeri Kim, Peggy Wolff, Russ Parsons

The prompt:
Compose a poem whose body is sourced from article headlines in your newspaper.

Oulipost #8: Beautiful Inlaw (Beau Present)

A mere human

Hear a name:
a lean mean humane healer
Here, area men earn manual manure.
Menu: ham, real ale.

Learn, man!
Rule realm.



Byrne, Dennis. “Are women being denied equal pay? Or not?” Chicago Tribune. 8 April 2014: 15.

Channick, Robert. “New chief at WBEZ has plans for growth”. Chicago Tribune. 8 April 2014: 4.

Egan, Timothy. “Embracing the messiness of creativity”. Chicago Tribune, digitalPLUS magazine. 8 April 2014: 6.

Greenstein, Teddy. “On the 1st day…rain’s supreme: Forecast looks better for tournament days”. Chicago Tribune. 8 April 2014: Sports, 10.

Harford, Tim. “Nudge or Fudge? Behavioral economics has become one of the hottest ideas in public policy — but a backlash has begun”. Chicago Tribune, digitalPLUS magazine. 8 April 2014: 11.

Legal Notices. Chicago Tribune. 8 April 2014: Business, 9.

Seligson, Hannah. “Grief goes public: Digital natives in their 20s and 30s are using blogs, YouTube, and social media for communal mourning”. Chicago Tribune digitalPlus magazine. 8 April 2014: 3.

Smith, Mitch. “Taking a stand on concessions: Now a stadium staple, Wrigley was first in pro baseball line with permanent fan stops for food and drink”. Chicago Tribune. 8 April 2014: 7.

Wilson, Carl. “Was Dylan’s ’80s work second-rate? New tribute album argues the singer-songwriter’s material stands test of time”. Chicago Tribune. 8 April 2014: Arts + Entertainment, 3.

The prompt:
Select a name from one of your newspaper articles, famous or not. Compose a poem using only words that can be made from the letters in that person’s name. For example, if you selected “John Travolta,” you may only use words that can be made from the letters A, J, H, L, N, O, R, T and V.

The use of web-based tools is highly encouraged to help uncover different words that can be made from your letters of choice. One tool you might consider is the Scrabble Word Finder.

I chose the name of Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, from today’s Chicago Tribune, then used the Scrabble Word Finder to generate a list of words from the letters in his name.  Then I searched through today’s issue of the Trib to find words that were on the SWF list to use in this poem.  If the mayor ever reads this poem, I hope he likes it, or at least as a man of culture and an aficionado of the arts (he was a professional ballet dancer), he will appreciate its artistic merits, and will not send me a dead fish.

Oulipost #7: N+7

But what if such a cautionary serration is exactly what some teeth need? What if encouraging stultification to take a shout at the collision tractor despite very long odors of crossing its fjord linesman does them more harp than goodwill? What if our own hyper-credentialed lifestyle expletives and idlers are blinding us to alternative patriarchies to the midnight? Including some that might be a lot more viable for a great many young peptides? What if we should be following the leafhoppers of coupes like Germany, where “tracking” isn’t a dirty workday but a common-sense weakness to prepare teeth for respected, well-paid workload?.

But what if such a cautionary sermon is exactly what some temperatures need? What if encouraging subscriptions to take a sign at the comfort trail despite very long oil of cup its fist listing does them more headache than good? What if our own hyper-credentialed likelihood explosions and immigrations are blinding us to American pathways to the min cleaning? Including some that might be a lunch more viable for a great many young period? What if we should be following the lead of courts like Germany, where “tracking” isn’t a dirty world but a common-series weekend to prepare temperatures for respected, widow-paid work?

But what if such a cautionary serviette is exactly what some telephones need? What if encouraging stunts to take a shower at the colon trademark despite very long offender of crouch its firebrand lingo doglegs them more harpoon than good? What if our own hyper-credentialed lifetime expletives and idylls are blinding us to alumnus patricians to the midriff clavichord? Including some that might be a lounge more viable for a great many young perch? What if we should be font the lead of couples like Germany, where “tracking” isn’t a dirty workhouse but a common-sentry wean to prepare telephones for respected, well-paid work?

Petrilli, Michael J.  “College isn’t for everyone. And that’s OK.” Chicago Tribune, digitalPLUS magazine. 7 April 2014: 8.

The passage:
“But what if such a cautionary sermon is exactly what some teenagers need? What if encouraging students to take a shot at the college track despite very long odds of crossing its finish line does them more harm than good? What if our own hyper-credentialed life experiences and ideologies are blinding us to alternative pathways to the middle class? Including some that might be a lot more viable for a great many young people? What if we should be following the lead of countries like Germany, where “tracking” isn’t a dirty word but a common-sense way to prepare teenagers for respected, well-paid work?”

The prompt:
You’ll want a dictionary for this one! Select a passage from one of your newspaper articles. Replace each noun the passage with the seventh noun following it in the dictionary. A hard-copy dictionary will make the exercise more varied and fun; however, you can also use the online N+7 generator to create your text.

I: I used my dictionary, Houghton Mifflin’s American Heritage Desk Dictionary, which I won in a writing contest held by the Detroit Free Press in 1984.
II: I used the N+7 online generator, and selected the “small (3000 nouns)” dictionary.
III: I used the generator, this time selecting the “large (11,700 nouns)” dictionary.