Revolution, Imagination, & Two Variations on N+7
Prompt Against Anxiety #4 | from Woodland Pattern Executive Director Jenny Gropp
"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.
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.
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.
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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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
rises like a clumsy
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
today it snowed
turned their beautiful
sparkling angry grave up
—Freddy LaForce, Milwaukee, WI
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