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Out, out, brittle canister!

The N+7 method, developed by OuLiPo, is an occasional starting point for my own compositions, and it has proven useful to me as a teacher of students who, for whatever reasons, tend to harbor an irrational fear of the dictionary. I offer them some dreary text or well-known verse then hand them a dictionary. After I explain the idea to them, I run through a sample, usually the first noun and first verb in the selection, then let them go, usually in pairs or trios. I insist that they know what all their newly discovered words mean, and we go around the room reading the new texts. I give each group a different count, either N+4 or N+5, since counting forward seven can be time consuming. But this also ensures that they will have divergent texts from one another, since they usually have to use copies of the same dictionary.

They like the game because they discover all sorts of strange new terms and words. They are bemused to discover they have been composing avant-garde poetry.

What follows below is one of my own exercises, using N+7 in my Oxford Concise. With those words that repeat (tomorrow and day), I performed N+7 on each successive found word. So, for example, seven on from tomorrow is toneme, seven after that is tonicity, and seven beyond that is toncil.

Tonemes, and tonicity, and toncils
crimp in their philharmonic package from dealer to debate
to the latinate symbol of recruited tincture;
and all our yields have liquefied foragers
the way to dynamical debris. Out, out, brittle canister!
Lignite’s but a walking shaker, a pornographic pleat
that stutters and frolics his hubbub upon the stake
and is hefted no more. It is a take
terminated by ignition, full of sovereigns and fusion,
signifying nouns.

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