This workshop is devoted to writing with constraints. The Oulipo, short for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (roughly translated: “workshop of potential literature”), is a group of writers who started in France in the 60s to develop formulas or constraints for composition. Whether through formal poetry, or surrealist games such as the “exquisite corpse,” methods that limit our expression paradoxically free us to write with abandon. Creativity is generated by working within set parameters. Together we will explore some methods of writing with constraints, pioneered or practiced by writers such as Raymond Roussel, Georges Perec, and Italo Calvino. Workshops will consist of a brief presentation of the method of constraint, followed by a half hour or so of writing, which will then be shared with the other workshop participants.

Participants should come with a willingness to experiment and play. Please be prepared to write on your own for several minutes and to share your results. There may also be some collaborative projects.

Image: A copy of French poet Raymond Queneau’s Cent mille milliards de poèmes (One hundred million million poems). All ten sonnets have the same rhyme scheme and employ the same rhyme sounds. As a result, any line from a sonnet can be combined with any from the other nine, giving 1014 (= 100,000,000,000,000) different poems. Working twenty-four hours a day, it would you take some 140,000,000 years to read them all.


With gratitude to Tom La Farge and Wendy Walker, founders of the Writhing Society at Proteus Gowanus, Brooklyn.