Citizens of the Woof Polite…

19 Jul

Citizens of the Woof Polite, you have everything to gain by your chains.

As I’ve already declared, I’m a great admirer of the French-based literary movement, the Oulipo. L’Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle or Workshop for Potential Literature was home to some of my favourite writers. Those experiments with constraint produced fascinating works of literature: Georges Perec’s Life a User’s Manual in which works of art are meticulously constructed only to be systematically taken apart with a palindromic symmetry bordering upon madness, Italo Calvino’s The Castle of Crossed Destinies in which the guests at a wayside inn are unable to speak and so we must infer their stories through cards drawn from a tarot pack, Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style where the same prosaic tale about an argument on a bus is retold 99 times as a dream, as a haiku, as a mathematical expression…

I am no mathematician, being rather an economist by training. Nor am I fluent in French, despite spending several weeks a year at my Breton writing retreat, ‘Kerplonk’. So when my fictional output is published and subsequently nominated for the Nobel Prize (struggling writers have to be optimists, you know), I’m unlikely to receive my invitation to the Oulipo (optimistic but a realist too). I have no option, then, but to propose a new, Anglophone movement instead.

And so here it is, my rallying cry to those writers in English who love to use constraint and playfulness in their work. This may be considered a first draft for a Woof Polite Manifesto. The straight narrative is no longer required. We have television and documentary for that if we desire. We need writers who aspire. Join the fight against Enid Blyton for grown-ups, against wizards and vampires and biblical conspiracies. Come and join me in this literary movement of one, the Workshop of Potential Literature or Woof Polite (the comic writer, Alexei Sayle once noted that anyone who uses the term ‘workshop’ to describe a group of people who don’t actually make anything must be a ‘prat’, but we shall overlook this). Stuart Kelly, author of  The Book of Lost Books, you’re a shoe-in. J Huw Evans, my friend and fellow East Anglian writer, you’re a Polite Woofer even if you don’t know it. Lipograms, palindromes, anagrams, buried sonnets, constraints of every kind, let us use whatever weapons we find to hand.

Citizens of the Woof Polite, you have everything to gain by your chains.

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Citizens of the Woof Polite, you have everything to gain by your chains

Image © PSR


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