If you follow my writing at all, you know I am fascinated by different styles of poetry. I’ve written haiku, sonnets, villanelle and am now tackling the dreaded ghazal. I’ve often said that if I have writer’s block, I will write haiku to break it.
So when one of my favorite e-newsletters arrived in my mailbox featuring an article about Oulipo, an organization of French novelists and poets, I was intrigued. These writers believe writing with certain constraints actually inspires creativity. For example, very restrictive forms of poetry as far as rhyme and/or length and even more daring constraints on works of fiction. Like writing an entire novel without using the letter “e”. Some of these works have been translated from French to English…also without using the letter “e”, if you can believe that.
What would it be about restricting yourself that actually inspires creativity? I can’t answer this, but I know that historically adversity can lead to great works of art. The Renaissance, for instance, was conceived during the darkness of the Bubonic Plague. Amazing works of art resulted from the pain of the Aids epidemic. Wars have always inspired great art. And the Covid-19 lockdown released a flurry of works of art, literature, and music that we are only beginning to appreciate.
Is it because we as humans have to hope that adversity creates great work? And following that, do we as artists create artificial constraints on our work just so we can burst out of it? Does restriction force something else out of us? Or is writing a sentence without the letter “e” just silly? (Or: Is it silly to try to show our thoughts without using a common symbol?)
I can only really answer to what works for me (and it’s not not using the letter “e”). Although I don’t totally agree with Robert Frost that “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down”, I do believe that I write good sonnets…and haiku…and villanelle. Not sure about ghazal yet. What do you think?
By Michelle Garren-Flye
Recite poetry in a husky voice—I hear your calls!
Tell me the story of the world and the star that falls.
How is it okay to whisper it all in my ear?
Count every moment from now to when the star falls.
It won’t matter anyway, I won’t let myself care.
I’ll run away—I swear I will—run ‘til that star falls.
But wait!, you say, are you sure that’s really okay?
The moments don’t pause, though, no, not until the star falls.
You’re silent at last, peace surrounds me and I will stay.
Last chance to wish on my whisper (sun’s rising!)…and star falls.
RIP Calliope, 2015-2023. Photo by Michelle Garren-Flye. Copyright 2023 Michelle Garren-Flye.