Today’s poem from Paul Stephenson playfully splices a pair of tannoyed announcements at a train station with homophonic translations of the instructions. Arranged in the shape of the two tannoys, the poem seeks to “fuse” the authoritative voice with a subversive echo.
At Poetry in Aldeburgh: Paul Stephenson will read as part of ‘Making Sense of the Past in the Present’ alongside Dan Burt and Mona Arshi, on Sunday 6th November, 11.30 am – 12.30 pm, in the Jubilee Hall
Two Tannoys (A Noise Annoys)
If you see fuse anything knee
suspicious please sheepish
report it sleaze rear poor
tit immediately mead
to a idiot member
wham of ember
nap pro. Chimp please
stand plead well land back
elbow whack from the crumb
platform edge Plath morph rat fed.
from Those People (Smith Doorstop, 2015)
Writing Prompt of the Day: 99 Varieties
Raymond Queneau was the co-founder of the experimental writing group Oulipo, or Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, well known for its use of constrained writing techniques. One of Queneau’s most celebrated texts is Exercices de style/ Exercises in Style (1947), in which he retells a mundane story set in Paris in 99 different ways, involving an altercation between two men on a bus where one accuses the other of jostling him.
Today’s exercise is to undertake a poetic variation on Exercices de Style, by creating a two-part poem that relays the same scene or incident but completed in two different styles, selected from Queneau’s 99 varieties. To work from, you should select an unremarkable scene or incident that you’ve seen or experienced recently, or one that you witness in public during your day, as the basic narrative for your poems. Options include writing about the scene or incident in reverse (‘Retrograde’), as a comedy script for a play (‘Comedy’), as a telegram (‘Telegraphic’), with constant reference to the sensation of touch (‘Tactile’), using as far as possible the language of plants (‘Botanic’), or by introducing a surprise twist (‘Unexpected’).
Barbara Wright writes in the introduction to her English translation of Queneau’s text: “It is an experiment in the philosophy of language. He pushes language around in a multiplicity of directions to see what will happen.” You can read an extract of this edition of Exercises in Style here to see how some of the variations work, including the introduction and the complete list of exercises in the contents pages:
A recent analogous exercise also worth looking at is Anne Carson’s ‘A Fragment of Ibykos Translated Six Ways’ in her pamphlet Nay Rather (2013), which ‘translates’ the text through the linguistic filters of John Donne, Bertolt Brecht’s FBI file, Beckett, an interview with Kafka, signs from the London Underground, and the manual for a microwave.