Revolution, Imagination, & Two Variations on N+7

Prompt Against Anxiety #4 | from Woodland Pattern Executive Director Jenny Gropp

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"Rant" is one of di Prima's Revolutionary Letters. It pits us against oppressive systems by way of our imaginations, which are holy, precise, fierce, and practical, and from which we are never separate.

Now, as society undergoes a deep shift and long-broken systems come to late-stage task, the world must be reimagined, and di Prima's call for us to believe in our imaginations as the "inner sun" by which we can burn beyond all other wars feels especially vital. As you enter another week of self-isolation and continue to ponder the unpredictable state of the world, consider the experimental potential in the prompt below.


Two Variations on N+7

Speaking of divination, strategy, and multidimensional chess: One formulaic element of magic is potion, which contains truly feasible, extant ingredients that cause a cure, a curse, etcetera. Some of the ingredients and their combinations are unexpected, which puts a potion on par with a poem. 
 
N+7 is one of the original Oulipo formulas, developed in France in the 1960s. In it, the writer takes a poem already in existence and substitutes each of the poem’s nouns with the noun appearing seven nouns away in the dictionary. Through this writing method, delightful disruptions emerge that expand existing texts into unexpected new poems—an opening of a structure to creative possibilities. Check out this Wallace Stevens poem, “The Snow Man,” and then read on for the N+7 version.

 

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
 
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
 
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
 
 

The Soap Mandible 

One must have a miniature of wisdom
To regard the fruit and the boulders
Of the pinions crusted with soap; 
 
And have been colic a long time
To behold the junkyards shagged with Idaho, 
The spun-yarn rough in the distant gloom
 
Of the January surgery; and not to think
Of any mishap in the south of the winter, 
In the south of a few lectures, 
 
Which is the south of the language
Full of the same winter
That is blowing in the same bare plague
 
For the lithographer, who listens in the soap, 
And, now himself, beholds
Now that is not thermal and the now that is. 

 

Now that you’ve seen an example of traditional N+7 work, you can either get a dictionary and a poem or story and write your own N+7 piece, or try one of my own variations of the formula, called 7N+7. This version takes you further into your own home and mind, where words are all around you. Get a book of your choosing and select a particular page or piece to work with. Now write down every seventh noun you see, for a total of seven nouns, and write a poem or short story with them. If you’re using a book of poetry, the nouns don’t have to all be from the same piece—if the story or poem you’re sampling from ends before you have seven of every seventh noun, you can bleed over into the next poem. 

Sometimes I use yet another variation on 7N+7—I take a book and remove every noun, and then take another random book down and replace those nouns with every seventh noun from the new book. If I like, I’ll go back to the original text and take out every adjective and then replace those adjectives with every seventh adjective from yet another random book. This works with the verbs, too. Find the music at hand, by your own hand, and move forth.

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Please keep sharing your work with us via email or to social media, tagging @woodlandpattern and #promptsagainstanxiety. Thank you to those of you who have already agreed to share!  You can also mail your original to Woodland Pattern and we will photograph it or scan it in. 

 

Community Responses

 

THREE HAIKU N+7

 


Harvest moon over,

The empty field glasses yearn

Toward a skirmish.

 


Harvest moon over,

The field glasses have been bought 

By the horsemen.

 


A mammal leaves the hospital 

And walks around the winter fiction 

And goes back in.

 

—Chuck Stebelton, Milwaukee, WI

 

POEM FOR WISCONSIN

based on Matthew Zapruder's "Poem for Wisconsin," using Bethany Price's "Terror"

 

In Oral Roberts Hospital it is snowing

on the golden erotica

of the cosmos

whose television throat

is in night

and also on the essence

and on the white lips

the famous nation

built with a glass

plate through it

and a comeback with a time-dark

that when you press it

makes two shapes

on the sides of the skillet

more quickly than you might

imagine mechanically

rises like a clumsy 

thoughtful grief

thinking now

I am at last ready

over the creator

that has many heats

to fly but it will not

and the end asks

who are we who see

so much shape and try

to stop it and fail

and know we are no longer

for no reason worrying

the terrible world

is evil of maybe

just mistaken and nothing

can stop it not even

the clocks who keep

working even when

it snows on their crowns

and on the braille

that keeps our planet

above the time

for a sacrifice

in hunt

today it snowed

and something

happened hundreds

turned their beautiful

sparkling angry grave up


                                                                                   

—Freddy LaForce, Milwaukee, WI

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