alskuefhaih
asoiefh

Saturday, April 09, 2011

"April Rain Song" by Langston Hughes, plus a poetry game: Oulipo

 -
-
Central Park, NYC, April 2009


April Rain Song
by Langston Hughes


Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night—

And I love the rain.



 Me in Central Park, April 2009


I appreciate the childlike pleasure in rain of Langston Hughes' lines. When do people learn to dislike rain? When I was little I played outside in it, stomping and sploshing in the wade-able gutters. Or I played indoors—Chinese checkers, Sorry, Scrabble, crosswords and word searches, or "house." I created divine and elaborate "mansions" with folios for walls, and my mother's jewelry boxes for furniture. (An open necklace box makes a perfect Davenport sofa for a paper doll, and embroidered handkerchiefs make elegant bedspreads.) Having to stay inside the walls of our house during inclement weather made us focus our creative attentions differently, and it was no less enjoyable to me than running in yard games or riding my bike 'round and 'round the block. In fact, I preferred the quieter play and bodily stillness of the cozy indoors, though I broke into somersaults and head stands if there were too many rainy days in a row.

I've been looking into poetic forms this poetry month. Part of me likes the "walls" and constraints of formal poetry like sonnets or villanelles. Focusing on a limited range of words that rhyme, or fit a certain metric, points my focus on what's inside me that wants to be written by eliminating the clutter of unnecessary material, and illuminating language choices in a smaller more limited range.

In these wanderings I discovered Oulipo. This "workshop of potential literature" (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle) was begun by a loose group of mathematicians, mostly French, who seek "new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy."

I played their N+7 game, remaking a couple of poems. (It's sometimes called S+7; N=Noun, S=Substantive.) What mathematicians and I like about N+7 is how it's both fixed and random. (How thrilling to have something in common with mathematicians.) What you do is this: Take an existing poem, like Langston Hughes' "April Rain Song" and replace each noun with the noun seven entries after it in the dictionary.

The point is to shake up language and open it up. What crazy new potentialities do you see? What do you discover about the original poem? What thought paths or inspirations reveal themselves like beckoning white rabbits down a hole, or songs of larks that make you pause and listen? I confess that besides these intriguing questions, I just really enjoy the nerdy pleasure of opening the dictionary and seeing what the seventh word away will be! By the way, you can eliminate all the words with the same root as your noun. So, for instance, I jumped past all the entries with "rain" in the word.

When I performed an oulipo on "April Rain Song" I was so happy that the noun replacing "rain" was "Rajasthani" because I remembered my dear friend Rauf's blog post about the manly herdsmen of Rajasthan and Gujarat who wear lots of big gold earrings ("Macho, Macho Jewelry"; Rauf let me borrow his photos below). For me, this game didn't "undo" Langston Hughes' poem, or poke fun at it. It shed light on his method of repeating a word for its sound, like continuous raindrops. The nouns that come seven entries after Hughes' nouns, in their fixed yet random aspect, blend into interesting play of syntax and word meaning. There is something synchronous and wondrous about the result. After reading Rauf's blog post about these shepherds, I see the "aqua" turban, I hear the "lumber-room" of the herded animal feet beating and mouths bleating like a rhythmic drowse-inducing lullaby, and I see the "poorhouses" of the Gujrati herdsmen in their fields of hard work and survival. And although the penultimate line of the oulipoem seems nonsensical, I hear the skill (sleight) of the sonny-herdsman, playing a shepherd's song that hovers around him like a shining halo (nimbus) in a dusty pasture at the end of a long, hot, sunny day.

By the way, Gandhi was born in Porbandar in Gujarat. Gandhi said:

"As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world—that is the myth of the atomic age—as in being able to remake ourselves."



Photo by rauf at Daylight Again;
Rauf knows how to shake things up

Aqua Rajasthani Sonny
An Oulipo N+7 response to Langston Hughes' "April Rain Song" — replacing each noun of Hughes' poem with the noun seven entries away in the dictionary

Let the Rajasthani kiss you.
Let the Rajasthani beat upon your heap with silver liquid drowse.
Let the Rajasthani sing you a lumber-room.

The Rajasthani makes still poorhouses on the sierra.
The Rajasthani makes running poorhouses in the gym.
The Rajasthani plays a little sleight-sonny on our roomette at nimbus—

And I love the Rajasthani.



Photo by rauf at Daylight Again


-
-

47 comments:

Stratoz said...

smiling smiling smiling---- beat upon your heap with silver liquid drowse. will look for an opportunity to introduce this to my students.

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

Oh, boy, this is going to be fun. I pondered how improbable it is that a poem concocted by this rule would produce anything meaningful and worthwhile, and then I read Langston's April Rain Song after you put it through its N+7 paces. Some of the imagery is amazing. The "beat upon your head with silver liquid drowse" is a winner. As is the entire post. I love the playful feel I get from this — like watching a little girl on a rainy day, not knowing whether to go out and splash about, or to keep her imagination inside and put it to use doing something 'different'. The results are delightful.

I, too, love being out in the rain. I used to have my best runs out in the rain and, if it were not for the dangers of falling on a racing bike, I would go out cycling in the stuff. For some reason, your reflections on the rain bring to my mind the Billie Holiday quote "Don't threaten me with love, baby. Let's just go walking in the rain".

steven said...

ruth - the link to oulipo is a gift so first of all thankyou. then into the rewrite which has qualities of dadaist writing - perhaps gentler and with more overt organization. rain - well i have never stopped loving rain and it's hard to explain to anyone who cringes at the thought of walking or biking in the rain but its many sensual qualities endear it to me. the only form of rain i find difficult to love is freezing rain and that's only because it hurts when it hits and makes biking impossible. have a lovely day! steven

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
chair

glazed with raisin
wattle

beside the white
chicory

...hmmmm... this is going to take more work than I thought...

Ruth said...

Stratoz, I was tickled by that line too. It can go in so many directions! I do think this is a great way to get students involved with poems in our literary culture and to engage with the physical task of writing.

Ruth said...

Steven, you are welcome. What is Dada? Beatrice Wood said when asked, What is Dada? What I know is that I do not know what is this Dada. I think there is a clue in there that we can pull back from our analytical thinking and just let words play and "inform" us through another way of knowing.

You and Lorenzo like riding in the rain. Lorenzo is lucky to have warmer temps in Spain, though I don't think it rains there much when it's hot. You and I get a lot of chilly rain, and yes, it can be painful! Have a beautiful weekend.

Louise Gallagher said...

For a couple of years, after I'd moved west from Toronto, I lived by myself in a little house, on a hill, surrounded by woods. One of my favourite things to do was to go dancing in the rain, barefoot, the mud squishing and squelching through my toes.

The N+7 is rather brilliant -- I will try it -- once I get this book off to the printers next week!

And I agree -- that line is fabulous!

Thank you for the reminder of the joy and wonder of rainy days.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, I'm glad you liked this little project, since I thought you might, with your personal attentions to both literary and mathematical expressions. Then you tried it right away, with our beloved WCW's Red Wheelbarrow! Everything in your N+7 is pretty great, actually. Raisin can be a color, and wattle is quite a lovely word. I just looked it up: basketweave with twigs, etc. The image of an old wheel chair, rusting away on the roadside where white chicory blooms (ah well, who cares if chicory's blue, this chicory is white), the chair growing rust with a basketweave patina of raisin brown on that red paint is quite evocative!

That's a great Billie Holiday quote. Walking in the rain really does sort of make you stop talking, thinking and threatening. :-) Do be careful if you go riding in the rain.

Ruth said...

Louise, you are rather brilliant to go out dancing in the rain, barefoot in the mud!

Best wishes on the book! Happy spring, and may you have some warm, squishy mud days ahead.

erin said...

i am twisted up and confused, truth be told, as i reject math like bad medicine. imagine my child face squished and turned. and yet, starting with Hughes' easy love of rain, his common language, and the driving simplicity of the AND in and i love rain, i find myself leaving with love for rain, the Gujrati herdsmen, and you, clever you. you are always pushing at my boundaries. perhaps a little math medicine might just do me good:)

great fun, ruth. i wonder then on the selection of specific words at all. i wonder on the nature of value of language and the egotistical value of the poems we create. if they can be redone rather arbitrarily - then what? it is a wonderfully humbling process actually.

xo
erin

Friko said...

This is such fun, a little light-hearted playing with words is a very enjoyable pastime.

Unfortunately, there is no rain today and I am working in the garden, with just a quick break for lunch and an equally quick look at the blogworld; so I am now off out again and will have to start playing this evening, when I will be very tired and ready to collapse over a poem or two.

See you later.

Ruth said...

Erin, I reject math too, all except addition. I can deal with addition. :-) It was the start of algebra in 7th grade that turned math into something like Cod Liver Oil, so I am with you there.

What you wrote next is why I love exploring these word exercises. Pulling and tugging and rearranging is a good way to push back from myself and allow something or someone else in. Robert Kelley wrote a new poem-book by inserting his own words and lines into Percy Bysshe Shelley's Mont Blanc. That was my first encounter with this idea of intruding on another person's work like this, and remaking it into something new.

Ruth said...

Friko, so good of you to stop in on your lunch break and promise, or threaten as in Lorenzo's Billie Holiday quote, some N+7 love. I remember your recent post about your appreciation of English weather an rainy, cool springs. Happy gardening, keep your feet and hands muddy!

Grandmother said...

Anything that breaks our mind open is good for our poetry. I enjoyed this, thank you.

Maureen said...

Great post, Ruth. I'm not familiar with this particular form but as I always have a dictionary (but never a thesaurus) by my side when writing, I'm going to try this. I was taken with what you created, so surprisingly lyrical and vivid.

ds said...

:D Love this! First off, I nearly put up "April Rain Song" (it is one of my most favorites) but then it stopped raining... I loved the rain as a kid (and yes played "house" beneath my mom's piano), but especially enjoyed the after-rain, riding my bike through the center of mudpuddles, loving the splash...

I love the Rajasthani ("beat upon your heap with silver liquid drowse"--brilliant). And even though I can date my math-anxiety, I've gotta try this. For the fun of playing with words, like mud.(and yes, humbling, as erin said)
Who has put new tools in whose toolkit now? Who has, as always, let in more light?

And Lorenzo, "wattle" is perfect--being the chicken and so much more.

Thank you for rauf's photos, too.

Ruth said...

Mary, I think so, too. Thank you. And happy writing!

Ruth said...

Maureen, I'm glad you wish to try this N+7. It's a lot of fun, and even if the end result is a little too odd or nonsensical, I found the process enlightening and envigorating. Thank you.

Ruth said...

ds, of course you nearly put up "April Rain Song." :-)

It's such a trick, isn't it, to find the best ways to keep ourselves fresh, yet to always write from within an authentic self. What is "crazy" to one person is not to another, and we need to keep encountering "craziness" I feel, to stay out of a rut.

Dan Gurney said...

Ruth, wonderful post! I love coming here, even on a sunny day. As a kid growing up in Southern California I can remember how exhilarating the rain was for me. It was a rare and special treat. I remember my confusion that mom and dad did seem to see the wonder and magic of rain. They would prefer we played indoors and witness the rain from inside the house.

As for the N+7, I was going to join the fun, but my search for an actual dictionary came up short! (I've taken them all to school.) I was surprised that I have come to rely on online dictionaries as much as I do!

Ruth said...

Hi, Dan! Thanks for your child-like visit. I think those kindergartners really keep you young.

I laughed at your comment about a dictionary. I couldn't find one edition at home, but I was lucky to find another, and even one in the office! Phew! I use online dictionaries, thesauri, wiki, google and the rest of it A LOT. And I had to get out my stronger glasses for the book-dictionary.

Jeanie said...

Well, this is pretty cool. I can see where I could spend some time plugging around with this one -- I have to say, your version makes wonderful "sense."

I've a love-hate relationship with rain. I love it when I'm inside and can all the lovely things one can do -- read a book, be leisurely, make divine food in a cozy kitchen, cuddle with an orange cat. I love it at night to lull me to sleep. But out in it? I'm afraid I've aged...!

deb colarossi said...

I love rain. From the inside or outside perspective.


What a fascinating post..
suddenly I had the image of each part, each sentence , photo, thought, image... a jewel or bead on a necklace, to finger round and round.. in my heart and mind...

I wonder if I will ever write poetry in any form or under any rules...

The Bug said...

Love love love this! I'm going to try it with one of my poems just for fun.

Vagabonde said...

A little bit of rain would feel good – not like the tornado we had last week. But today it was 87 degrees in the shade. It is very fortunate that you found the word Rajasthani for your little poem – it is perfect. I also like the original – but I am prejudiced because my grandson was named after Langston Hughes.

Pat said...

Wow! I've learned so much in this post, I'm just going to have to sit and think for awhile. Good thing it's going to rain tomorrow!

Terresa said...

Lovely, this! And coincidence, earlier this week I started writing a Oulipo Snowball constraint! (a friend of mine is an Oulipo fan and drawing me over to it as well - I place full blame with Georges Perec!)

Hope your weekend is grand, mine's been massages & hamburgers & puppies in the mix, never a dull second!

rauf said...

oh the chapee wearing a turban looks like Gandhiji Ruth, comes from the same place. The Turban, Pagdi in Urdu and Hindi is not just a piece of cloth on your head (only men wear it, ladies simply cover their heads) it has a great deal of significance. i'll write about it some day Ruth.

Montag said...

What is very interesting to me about this kind of Permutational Poetry is the fact that is always renders something that is meaningful, and sometimes it is rather good.

This is one of the tricks of language and knowledge: everything can make sense, even random changes. If we reach a point where it becomes unintelligible, we merely create a new "aesthetic" which makes the unintelligible clear.

Pauline said...

The whole post - Langston Hughes' rain, the fabulous grinning man, and the oulipo directions - is an inspiration. Can't wait to try the oulip with my own students!

Marcie said...

I'm a lover of rain...always have been. And with your words - you've made it magical! Love how you're exploring these different forms of words and poetry. I always learn so much when I come here!

Ruth said...

Jeanie, I like puzzles, maybe you do too. This kind of hunt and peck and seeing what fate brings is lots of fun for me.

We spent a pretty miserable lunch outdoors in Ann Arbor Friday at the TED conference listening to our son's band perform: 40-something degrees, rain. It was not pleasant. But when the music started, I forgot it completely, lost.

Ruth said...

Deb, that is beautiful — words, sentences, thoughts, images as beads to be fingered in your heart-mind. We can rearrange them as we wish, as they lend their texture into our meaning. I will take this image with me, thank you.

Ruth said...

Dana, cool! You never know, new poems might come from the exercise.

Ruth said...

Vagabonde, so frightening, tornados. I see that you survived and are well, and for that I am grateful.

Oh sweet, your grandson being named for Langston Hughes. The layers of your life and world never cease to interest me.

Ruth said...

Hi, Pat! Ahh, sitting indoors or on the porch, day dreaming, or thinking while the rain patters down. Good stuff.

Ruth said...

Terresa, the snowball oulipo sounds way funL each line one word, and each successive word is one letter longer. I wonder if you'll try it!

My weekend is quiet in comparison to your throbbing mix, and I'm not unhappy about it. :-)

Ruth said...

rauf, the resemblance between this fellow you photographed and Gandhiji is unmistakable. I was thinking about the cloth on his head. I wondered if it is used for other things sometimes too. I hope you will post about it, yes. I told you about our friend Deepraj Singh Puar who was only "half-Sikh" and did not wear a turban. I was also interested when I read your post on macho jewelry and looked up the significance of earrings worn by Indian men and Indian women, different.

Thank you again for the photos, and for the inspiration to shake things up, always, rauf.

Ruth said...

Montag, yes, after all meaning is what we bring to it all.

Ruth said...

Pauline, you and a couple of other teachers will be sharing the oulipo with students. Think about how great that is. I had never heard of this group/form until last week, and now maybe it will spread to the next generation. Thank you!

Ruth said...

Marcie, actually yes, I think of you connected with water. So many gorgeous photographs of water birds. Thank you, and have a beautiful Sunday!

Arti said...

What an interesting exercise! Now I'm beginning to understand the phrase "constraint without limitation". (I read your current post first and then scrolled down.) Structures can indeed unleash creativity and variety. Thanks for the insight, Ruth!

Peter said...

Anything is good as an "excuse" to find Rauf and these wonderful portraits! :-)

Susan said...

Your rain pictures are wonderful, wonderful. I love a rainy day, especially if there has been a succession of hot, sunny days. I love to smell the rain in the air. I love sitting on enclosed porches, curled up on a comfy couch/chair, my legs covered by a light blanket, reading, with a cup of tea by my side. I love "April Rain Song". I love what you did with it in your oulipo. The "silver liquid drowse" describes perfectly the feeling while doing the above.

Oliag said...

I do believe I have always loved these rainy days more than their sunnier cousins...an excuse to stop and be quiet...to listen to the patter on the skylights...to hope for thunder and lightning. What a wonderful poem by LH...

N+7 is delightful too...

shoreacres said...

Ruth,

In the midst of so much beauty, you've shared a truth: "focusing on a limited range of words...points my focus on what's inside me that wants to be written by eliminating the clutter of unnecessary material...

Every day during Lent I've been posting a 140 character "line" focusing on what I see first thing in the morning. the results have been astounding to me.

Yesterday's for example - Insistent and sweet, a froth of calling doves pours across the rich and fragrant darkness. I sip the silence through their sounds.

Who knew so much could be contained in 140 characters? Perhaps I ought to stop telling myself that I can't write poetry.
Isn't it amazing how we can get in our own way?

J.G. said...

Oh, this is good fun and a lovely reuslt. I like the "poetry game" poem better than the original (how gauche of me).