A Workshop of Potential Literature
Oulipo—the Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle or “workshop of potential literature”—was founded in Paris nearly sixty years ago by poets, writers and mathematicians who invented and experimented with new “constraints” as alternatives to the conventional rules of traditional literary forms. They showed that by wrestling with constraint, the “exercise of force to determine or confine action,” we can make poems that radically break from what we’ve made before. Given the mathematical leaps in Oulipo, the definition of “constraint” used in physics seems an apt way to consider making poems: “any special physical or molecular condition into which a body is brought by the operation of some force, and lasting during its operation, e.g. a state of tension.” This workshop of potential literature will attempt to create poems from just such a state of tension by practicing Oulipian forms such as the Prisoner’s Constraint, the Lipogram, the Beautiful Outlaw, N+7, and the Snowball. As we make new work, we’ll spend time reading and discussing the work of contemporary writers who engage with Oulipian or noulipian constraint, such as Caroline Bergvall, Christian Bök, Tan Lin, Harry Matthews, Harryette Mullen, Juliana Spahr and Rodrigo Toscano.
Miller Oberman‘s first book, The Unstill Ones, a collection of original poems and Old English translations, was chosen by Susan Stewart for the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets and published in the fall of 2017. A former Ruth Lilly Fellow as well as a 2016 winner of the 92nd St Y’s Boston Review/Discovery Prize, his translation of selections from the “Old English Rune Poem” won Poetry’s John Frederick Nims Memorial Prize for Translation in 2013. Oberman’s poems and translations have appeared in Poetry, Harvard Review, Tin House and the Nation. He has taught workshops in poetry, poetics and fiction at Georgia College and the University of Connecticut, where he completed his PhD in English. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, rock singer Louisa Rachel Solomon of the Shondes.