Central Park, NYC, April 2009
April Rain Songby 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'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."
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
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