Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Today Programme on OuLiPo Four

A rare outing in the wider world for OuLiPo this morning when the Today Programme, in between frantic middle-brow tabloiding about the Ross/Brand teacup squall, featured Canadian poet Christian Bok, whose book Eunoia has five chapters, each chapter using only one vowel ('Eunoia is the shortest word in English containing all five vowels - and it means "beautiful thinking"').

Hassan Abd al-Hassad, an Agha Khan, basks at an ashram - a Taj Mahal that has grand parks and grass lawns, all as vast as parklands at Alhambra and Valhalla. Hassan can, at a handclap, call a vassal at hand and ask that all staff plan a bacchanal - a gala ball that has what pagan charm small galas lack. Hassan claps, and (tah-dah) an Arab lass at a swank spa can draw a man's bath and wash a man's back, as Arab lads fawn and hang, athwart an altar, amaranth garlands as fragrant as attar - a balm that calms all angst. A dwarf can flap a palm branch that fans a fat maharajah. A naphtha lamp can cast a calm warmth.

Not as unreadable as one might suppose - on the radio Bok talked about each chapter having quite a distinct tone - though I do quail at the idea of reading a novel's-worth of it. (Coward!) The R4 website tells us, slightly unnecessarily, 'It took seven years to write', before going on to ask, with all the gravitas of a world-famous institution, 'Can you write using only one vowel? Email us your attempts using the form at the bottom of the page.' Christ.

This blog post by David Morley is worth looking at, partly for the background information on OuLiPo but mainly for the magnificent photo of OuLiPeans posing as if for one of those jocular Oxbridge sepia photos where everyone is looking in different directions.

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