Kickshaws

By Morice, Dave | Word Ways, August 2004 | Go to article overview

Kickshaws


Morice, Dave, Word Ways


Readers are encouraged to send their favorite linguistic kickshaws to the Kickshaws editor at drABC26@aol.com. Answers can be found in Answers and Solutions at the end of this issue.

The 2004 Spineless Books Award for Constrained Literature

William Gillespie, editor and publisher of Spineless Books, should be applauded for taking a major step in bringing constrained writing (based on wordplay forms and strategies) to a potentially larger audience. In 2003 Spineless Press announced The Fitzpatrick-O'Dinn Award For Best Book-length Work of Constrained English Literature, the prize being publication of the winning entry.

Congratulations to Joshua Corey for creating the prize-winning book, Fourier Series, named after the socialist reformer Charles Fourier (1772-1837). Corey's book is a gathering of pages, each divided into four parts by horizontal and vertical lines. Each page has one, two, or three (but not four) lyrics, one per quadrant. For example, the opening lyric (in the top left quadrant) consists of the seven lines the nebular desert / birthed suns / was it song or gallop of song / that you chased in the umber hills / under a sky polluted with stars / size grows stranger / inside you stranger.

As far as I can see, the book's only formal constraint is that each lyric has to be seven lines long. This is a very light constraint--if it were any lighter it would float away! To give guidance, the Spineless Books website has a clear chart showing several different ways of combining wordplay constraints with literary forms. I'd assumed that the contest-winning book would do something incredibly new with language, but it lacks any real constraint pushing it into the strange realm of literacy called The Logology Zone.

On Constrained Writing

Here is what I believe should apply to constrained novels of fifty pages or more:

1. Each novel should have only one major constraint that controls the entire text (but there can be additional minor constraints)

2. The major constraint should be complex enough to make writing a challenge (if the constraint is trivial, then it is unnecessary)

3. The writer should not use incorrect grammar or misspelled words, unless incorrect grammar or misspelled words fit the intention of the constraint

4. One reason for writing a constrained novel is to see what happens when the irresistible force of logology meets the immoveable object of language

5. Another reason is to see if that novel can actually be written!

6. One goal is to write the novel so smoothly that the constraint isn't noticeable (difficult at novel length)

7. If the novel can't be written smoothly, the goal is to write it roughly but with as smooth a roughness as possible (in this case the author succeeds in telling the story by allowing unusual turns of language to become part of the identifying "sound" of its words)

8. In many cases, the literary constraint, not the writer, has the greater influence on the style, words and strategies used

Here are brief discussions of well-known book-length works written under different constraints:

Gadsby, the first E-less novel, stood alone for years as the only lipogrammatic novel in English. It was stiff and didactic, like Horatio Alger applying for a job. With nothing to compare to Gadsby, no one could be certain whether Wright or the constraint caused the book to be so uninteresting. But the book did show that writing without E was not difficult. Then came La Disparation written in French by Georges Perec and translated by Gilbert Adair into English as A Void. Both versions proved that excellent E-less writing was possible in more than one language. (Some reviewers of the French book didn't even realize that E had been omitted!)

Dr. Awkward & Olson in Oslo is the longest-known palindromic novel, appearing only in mimeographed form. …

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