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Literary group interested in experimental poetry created by mathematical constraints.

“Oulipo stands for “Ouvroir de littérature potentielle”, which translates roughly as “workshop of potential literature.” It is a loose gathering of French-speaking writers and mathematicians, and seeks to create works using constrained writing techniques. It was founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais. Other notable members include novelists Georges Perec and Italo Calvino, and poet and mathematician Jacques Roubaud.

The group defines the term ‘littérature potentielle’ as (rough translation): “the seeking of new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy.” Constraints are used as a means of triggering ideas and ispiration, most notably Perec’s “story-making machine” which he used in the construction of Life: A User’s Manual. As well as established techniques, such as lipograms (Perec’s novel A Void) and palindromes, the group devises new techniques, often based on mathematical problems such as the Knight’s Tour of the chess-board and permutations.

Oulipo was founded on November 24, 1960, as a subcommittee of the Collège de ‘Pataphysique entitled Séminaire de littérature expérimentale. However at their second meeting, this first name was withdrawn in favor of today’s Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or OuLiPo, at Albert-Marie Schmidt’s suggestion. The idea, however, preceded the first meeting by roughly two months, when a small group met in September at Cerisy-la-Salle for a colloquium on Queneau’s work. During this seminar, Queneau and François Le Lionnais conceived of the society. (From the Wikipedia article about Oulipo.)

Starter Links: Oulipo | article about Oulipo (with links to poems) | wikipedia article

  tl, 04.23.06

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