Zoe[oz] & Iain[iaI]: Topping and Tailing!

This post comes accompanied by a sigh of contentment. Zoe Fothergill and I burst through the finishing line of our own investigative race against time, and delivered personal bests, or at least a lecture in a kitchen….

On 2nd March 2013, we gave a lecture/performance titled

Zoë Fothergill & Iain Morrison: Never Odd or Even

and subtitled

A formless monster of dismaying length, a rodent in a squirrel cage, going nowhere very rapidly and very tediously, and ending up exactly where we started.

Intriguing? I hope so! One of the things that I think really worked about the lecture performance was that it’s 7 sections were delivered in an order chosen blind by the audience (7 lovely souls who squeezed into the !Wakaka!! kitchen).

7 lovely souls

We asked them to “pick a card, any card” from some specially Zoe-made ones with the names of each section on one side and the fetching poster, designed by our hosts, on the other. That certainly kept it fresh for us, and audience members said that they liked the degree of interactivity. Our main theme was ‘structure becoming content’ so I hope this was apposite.

You can see in the picture below Zoe and I mid-flow, with the sections lining up in front of us.

Iain_zoe2for blog

And here, in a dazzling display of audience talent, are some magnified sea-monsters made during the ‘structure workshop’ section!

edit seamonster


Our hosts were marvellous to work with. I would encourage anyone with the slightest degree of creativity to start wooing them now in an attempt to get a booking for one of these kitchen extravaganzas. They were very open to our ideas, however vague they must have seemed at first, and the experience of preparing a ‘lecture’ for a cosy group in this context was a wonderful chance to try out something that we might not have had the support and headspace to do otherwise. Each family member contributed, not least Chris and Jennie’s seven-year old son Rudy who recorded a poem for us coping deftly with vocabulary that might have given pause to someone twice his age – eg. bioluminescence, I kid you not. Also, the food was delicious!

There’s a publication being produced by Chris and Jennie at !Wakaka!! towers, which pairs up some of the text we wrote for the ‘sequence’ sections of the lecture with images that they and the kids produced. So watch for news on that and I’ll probably dip into the tranche of writing/image material we generated again on this blog, but for now, Zoe, my fine collaborator, thank you for the experience. I’ve learned a lot from chewing the rather large mouthful we bit off there.


*picks content from teeth*


Rehearsal tonight with Zoe Fothergill

Apols for the blurry photo but I thought it’d be fun to record the pace quickening

Zoe prep two

event details here

A formless monster of dismaying length. (our lecture)

My collaboration with Zoe Fothergill is nearing its ruly/unruly climax. Here’s the event poster, designed by Wakaka co-host Chris Walker.

Facebook event here.

10 days to go!

Zoe F and Iain M poster

Zoe Replies (to my reply to her reply to….)

‘Sent: Monday, 30 November 2012, 15:39′

Zoe Fothergill replied to my previous email about our structure/content collaboration with some nested comments. I’ve put my highlights below and tried to avoid too much repetition of my previous mail. One of us said in this email ‘Here’s my reply to your reply to my reply to your reply from before’ which sums up the twistiness of the process!


In my last email I asked Zoe….


Iain: This raises the interesting possibility just now in my head, of a see-through artwork. Can you think of any?

Zoe: weirdly just this week i was doing a bit of research to intro a speaker and found these attached.

one example of the images Zoe found

one example of the images Zoe found


revealing the behind the scenes of the paintings – punching through the illusion of 2d surface in a surprisingly compelling way. this had made me think about when i’m referring to structure as content whether i’m really talking about breaking the 4th wall. bringing the audience into the how of production and i found mise-en-abyme as a phrase that might be useful to describe this. wiki in their usual way have a whole load about it. originally about painting within painting ad infinitum or mirror opposite mirror with endlessly recurring image but more recently as ‘The modern meaning of the term originates with the author André Gide who used it to describe self-reflexive embeddings in various art-forms and to describe what he himself sought in his work.[1] As examples, Gide cites both paintings such as Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez and literary forms such as Shakespeare‘s use of the “play within a play” device in Hamlet, where a theatrical company presents a performance for the characters that illuminates a thematic aspect of the play itself. This use of the term mise en abyme was picked up by scholars and popularized in the 1977 book Le récit spéculaire. Essai sur la mise en abyme by Lucien Dällenbach.[2]‘ 

it then goes on to talk about the deconstruction of process which i guess is a major preoccupation of postmodern thought. anyway here’s a link to that page if you fancy reading more. somehow i think this is getting into what i mean by the content being the structure but still not quite articulated.


Then Zoe continued the discussion about the difference in meaning between ‘form’ and ‘structure’….

Iain: I think what I like about ‘form’ as a word to use in this discussion is that it’s often set up as, not exactly the opposite of, but certainly the counterpart to ‘content’, so it comes out of my mouth/fingers naturally. It has a valency, history of use. Maybe that makes it too cosy to use now unthinkingly. A bit hackneyed.

Zoe: i think you hit on why i struggle with form because it has the weight of that which has gone before. it has a sort of expectation in it as a result of that which for me structure is free from. form in visual arts i think of being the visual qualities that might categorise what you are encountering. and it is what people often go to first in crits or initial interpretations – its almost the descriptive stuff defining what you see – but it is the easy stuff it’s the whatness and it shies away from the trickier howness and whyness. is structure both how and why or is semantics or meaning purely the why? mmm not sure now.


The exchange about artist Andrew Grassie’s painting practice, begun in this post, continued….

Iain: You say that the structure (meaning the process here?) becomes the principal subject. I’d like to hear what you think might be secondary subjects in this Grassie work too.

Zoe: there is also poking at the power structures in the art world. he put out an open call for artists to show in a trendy well sought after space which is profile raising for aspiring artists. usually artists don’t get to make that selection but is in the hands of the curators. so playing with curatorial and artists expectations about how they interact. also he put out the invite with all their names on it and so selling his work off the reputations of fellow artists whose profile might have been considerably higher than his. as you say flattening or at least considerably altering the power structures at play in quite an audacious way. questions about aura too – do you need to be in the physical presence of an artwork to experience its power or is this possible in reproduction and if so how is that altered by the fact that he makes these high art egg tempera paintings rather than presenting the photographs they are taken from. lots going on for me…

Iain: I’m interested in that initial period in which we’re wooed by the work, and the game, the puzzle, keeps you looking longer – it makes it something happening in time maybe?

Zoe: i really like your assessment here that you get drawn in by the game of structural/ process playfulness but then there has to be some meatiness on the inside to grapple with and i think he does that too. but there is a real danger in getting so caught up in the smarts of mental manoeuvring that the core around which all is framed becomes vacant and disappointing.


And then here Zoe responded to my wondering if we could come up with a visual/text translation game to play with this suggestion, which has now gathered steam and may turn out to be a central and fun part of the performance….

Zoe: how about we each send each other a word or maybe we just agree to start with structure or some such and then reply with an image on and on til we have a album of evolving images. or alternate between image and word/phrase/quote. i think i’d really enjoy that. what d’you reckon?


Zoe then picked up on this comment from me….

Iain: To say the meaning is housed in the structure implies a possible separation of the two. Maybe there are just two separate processes going on in an artwork and the trick is to manage the symbiotic relationship between them with you as the magi?

Zoe: i reckon there are at least two – well i always find way more than i can begin to master. and for me they are never separate always intimately entwined. you change one thing and it sets off a whole load of other stuff you hadn’t thought was there. but that is the fun of the fair is it not mr m!


A nice way to leave things for now. At the fun of the fair 🙂

My Zoe Fothergill Collaboration. The correspondence file continues!

Jan the 9th and high time I posted further links in my email chain with artist Zoe Fothergill. The last post was in November I see. Check there please if you’re at sea with what’s going on below. Basically we’re collaborating and working towards a performance lecture on structure and content.


Iain Morrison said:

Hi it’s me! I’ve been in writing-thinking-blogging-Zoe+Iain-land tonight. Have done lots of thinking and I’ve put one new blog up, with two more written and set to auto-publish during the week. So that means my blog should be catching up with our correspondence.

Here’s a reply to your email from the 5th November. I hope it’s interesting. I have an idea that it might be fun for us to both reply, quiz or questionnaire-style, to a series of questions about form and structure. I think, now, that we pretty-much know where we’re at with what we’re thinking of, but it might be useful to capture it for the project and could generate some interesting text. Anyway, I have some idea, but will send in a separate email. Here’s my reply to your reply to my reply from before.


I thought your paragraph on the difference between structure and form was excellent. It answered a lot of the questions I had about where you see the difference. You wrote:


‘ok so i say structure because i think it’s far more precise.

form has many more interpretations for me.

and oed agrees so it must be right – pasted below

but maybe the more openended nature of form appeals to you more

i guess for me structure feels more inside

more understanding relations within

and form is a step remove

surveying the whole

what say you?’


Having looked at the OED definitions of form and structure, I think I understand a difference that form is somehow about what can be perceived visually (possibly not that different in an artwork or a poem actually), where structure takes into account the inner organisation of an artefact. So form=externally visible and structure=external and internal organisation.

This raises the interesting possibility just now in my head, of a see-through artwork. Can you think of any?

I notice that a word that comes up in both definitions is ‘arrangement’. The definition of form in the OED’s definition list that came closest to what I think I’ve been thinking of was

‘[mass noun] style, design, and arrangement in an artistic work as distinct from its content: these videos are a triumph of form over content’

I also love the idea of a ‘mass noun’. Cool!

You wonder if it’s the open-endedness of form which attracts me. I think what I like about ‘form’ as a word to use in this discussion is that it’s often set up as, not exactly the opposite of, but certainly the counterpart to ‘content’, so it comes out of my mouth/fingers naturally. It has a valency, history of use. Maybe that makes it too cosy to use now unthinkingly. A bit hackneyed.

As I think you say, the Andrew Grassie flips apparent content into a place less-important than the structure. The content doesn’t become the meaning and the structure does. What’re we left looking at? It’s more than our own perception, isn’t it? You talked about ghosts.

You say that the structure (meaning the process here?) becomes the principal subject. I’d like to hear what you think might be secondary subjects in this Grassie work too.

I can see a dance of meaning happening in his work. You’re presented with a formal question about what’s going on, how were the images generated, is it  a photo, is the content the artist’s work, no it seems so various, oh it’s a painting, hang on, I’m in the space depicted in the painting, but where have the objects gone, oh, this painting is made from the exact same view-point you would look through if the canvas were a window. Then once you’ve worked it all out, a second stage of interpretation happens. Why these works? Why has he done this? Why these materials? Questions which don’t have such straightforward answers as the formal ones. But I’m interested in that initial period in which we’re wooed by the work, and the game, the puzzle, keeps you looking longer – it makes it something happening in time maybe?

The submitted art he lets into his process seems effectively repressed and literally flattened/walked away from. I’m intrigued. Thanks for introducing me to this artist.

I can see what you mean about it possibly losing its meaning if you move it to a different venue. That’s a thing with site specific isn’t it? Cake, eating it perhaps. Did I tell you ever that I once misheard people talking about what I thought was ‘Site-Specific: The Musical’? I eventually realised that they were talking about ‘South Pacific’! I had a massive LOL about that.

I love structure/stricture. That’s a very nice sleight of word just there that you’ve introduced me to.

I’m interested in what you say about translation. I wonder if we could play some sort of translation game as a way of interrogating the ‘thisness’ of something. I wonder how we might do it with words and then also with something visual. Any thoughts?

You do read my poems very well. I was grateful to read your reponse to ‘in relation to’ that picked up elements that had interested me around the prefixed/non-prefixed (fixed?!) vocab, and I like that it had that effect of involving you in its play as it reached its conclusion(s). I wonder if sometimes the answer to the question ‘what is it about?’ has two answers: one which centres on the content and one which centres on the form/structure? So in the case of my poem I could say it’s about the extent to which you can relate to someone and which differences are insoluble, but I could also say it’s about moving forwards through a syntax structure and then unpicking what’s been created backwards to see where you end up. Maybe? Or maybe the second bit is the answer to the question ‘how does it convey its meaning?’, but I don’t think it’s that exactly. To say the meaning is housed in the structure implies a possible separation of the two. Maybe there are just two separate processes going on in an artwork and the trick is to manage the symbiotic relationship between them with you as the magi?

Iain x

On 5 Nov 2012, at 19:06, zoe fothergill wrote:

excellent great response my dear

i ditto love the way levine talks about his work

i also find that more interesting than the work itself

and prob would have selected the same section re futility too

i totally agree that it is barely intelligible but not really in an interesting way

but also agree at times new languages evolve from this kind of mania

i find it diffcult and frustrating but still i’m pleased it exists

i geek too


i think you are right to question the quailty of the output

the relation between content and structure – meaning and form

but i guess i’m also interested in work that pushes past

to make the form the meaning or the structure the content.


i just ordered ‘a void’ – the ‘e’ less novel that focuses on the pursuit of e as the main thrust of the plot

intrigued to know whether it is unintelligible or if as you say re the 5hr opera

you got to ride with it

til it starts to infiltrate and reveal its inner logic.

in part i’m blown away by the fact it was written

for the sheer ‘what if ness’ of it

but even more so by the translation efforts

originally in french

then to english

and also spanish with no a instead

translators unsung heros

will report back.


ok so i say structure because i think it’s far more precise.

form has many more interpretations for me.

and oed agrees so it must be right – pasted below

but maybe the more openended nature of form appeals to you more

i guess for me structure feels more inside

more understanding relations within

and form is a step remove

surveying the whole

what say you?


thanks for including your poems

great examples of responses to struture/form

for me it always begs the question

when are rules freedom and when are they hinderance / stricture?

start without and impose as you go or start with and mould to fit?

i’m with you too that the second balances the relationship better

i love the interplay between prefixed and not vocab

oh so similar and yet not and yet sometimes yes

and then it building to a fuller interplay across the whole

that tantalisingly reveals itself – it’s fun it’s cheeky – i love it

while the first has a complex structure

it is almost invisible to me

so the second seems generous

with the listening/reader included

in the unravelling of the fun and games


did you see the andrew grassie show at trg

years ago now 08

one work driven by structure

that at trg was out of context

i would have loved to have seen in situ

was at mobile home in london

he hung a group show by open call

photographed it from 8 view points

then returned all the work

and made meticulous tiny paintings of the photos

then hung the photos in the 8 places

so that the exhibition space was practically empty

and yet the ghosts of the secret show

were presented in what i imagine to be

uncanny – making you double take in the space

couple images attached to aide explanation

the structure is elaborate

and maybe unnecessary

but i love its convolution

and for me it becomes the principal subject

anyways enough from me for now

soon soon



Definition of structure


1 the arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex:

the two sentences have equivalent structures

the company’s weakness is the inflexibility of its management structure

[mass noun] the quality of being organized: we shall use three headings to give some structure to the discussion

2 a building or other object constructed from several parts: the station is a magnificent structure and should not be demolished


Definition of form


1. the visible shape or configuration of something: the form, colour, and texture of the tree [mass noun]: the flowers of this shrub are remarkable both in form and colour

• the body or shape of a person or animal: his eyes scanned her slender form

• [mass noun] style, design, and arrangement in an artistic work as distinct from its content: these videos are a triumph of form over content

2. a particular way in which a thing exists or appears: essays in book form energy in the form of light

• any of the ways in which a word may be spelled, pronounced, or inflected: an adjectival form

• Philosophy the essential nature of a species or thing, especially (in Plato’s thought) regarded as an abstract ideal which real things imitate or participate in.

3. a type or variety of something: sponsorship is a form of advertising

• an artistic or literary genre: a form is as good as the writer who chooses it

• Botany a taxonomic category that ranks below variety, which contains organisms differing from the typical kind in some trivial, frequently impermanent, character, e.g. a colour variant. Also called forma.

4 [mass noun] the customary or correct method or procedure: an excessive concern for legal form and precedent

• [count noun] a ritual or convention: the outward forms of religion

• [count noun] a set order of words; a formula: a form of words

5. a printed document with blank spaces for information to be inserted: an application form

6. chiefly British a class or year in a school, usually given a specifying number: the fifth form

7. [mass noun] the state of a sports player or team with regard to their current standard of play: they are one of the best teams around on current form

• details of previous performances by a racehorse or greyhound: an interested bystander studying the form

• a person’s mood and state of health: she seemed to be on good form

• British informal a criminal record: they both had form

8. British a long bench without a back.

9. Printing, chiefly USvariant spelling of forme.

10. British a hare’s lair.

11. another term for shuttering.

Early response to Zoe’s initial email

Just in case you’ve arrived at this post without context, it’s an excerpt from a continuing dialogue I’m having with visual artist Zoe Fothergill in the run up to a performance-lecture we’re doing in 2013 as part of Jennie Temple’s Project!!WAKAKA! Scroll back through this blog for earlier posts.


Sent: Monday, 5 November 2012, 17:35

Subject: Re: Green for go – whizzing away off the blocks

Here’s a few thoughts in response to your dossier to keep things flowing, à la our best efforts.

So, the lists of contrained/constraint-writing, in terms of a conversation about structure and content (I’m going to keep wanting to say ‘form and content’ so you’ll have to catch me if I go off piste) is a useful place to start i think. It certainly got quite a strong reaction from me, as much of it seemed to be the geekery that used its formal/structural qualities as a way of avoiding content in any helpful way.

I was interested that Lawrence Levine in his introduction to his palindromic novel ‘Dr. Awkward & Olson In Olso’ said of an earlier effort ‘[…] I suddently realized the futility of proceeding along that line of palindromania. I could go on forever and would always end up with vritually nothing. A formless monster of dismaying length, a rodent in a squirrel cage, going nowhere very rapidly and very tediously, and ending up exactly where he started!’, exactly where he started, in a literal sense of course because of a palindrome’s nature, but probably not in terms of meaning, which I think is harder to chart the course of than these obsessive rules (and perhaps that’s the attraction?).

Levine goes on to say that when he started work on the novel (Dr. Awkward…) he ‘wanted to be a purist. Use only common English words was the dictum: no variable spellings, no oddments, no obscure names of places of peoples, no obsolete words, no foreign phrases or Latinisms masquerading as good English. But of course this was all quite impossible.’

I found the generous segments of the novel’s text completely unreadable. The bits of text were unable to solve the problem of working forward and backwards with equal success and relevance at their twin-appearances in the novel. It was obvious when you read through whether a section was really for this half of the novel or the other. For example do you think that Levine came up with, ‘Eye enos, sor cad, na, Hades sap. Olson in Oslo’ before realising that it handily reversed into ‘Olson in Olso passed a hand across one eye.’? No, me neither.

I am much more interested in where the structure/form is in balance with content in an equally matched game of chess. In that situation, the ideal as far as I think, both aspects are pushed into areas that stretch their previous bounds. One thing I like about the palindrome experiment is that is forces the writer to discover new words. I don’t like the fact that it is used so stringently that it admits no chance to mean.

Levine might counter my argument by saying, as he does in the same introduction, that in his text ‘the eccentric soon becomes the commonplace, and the reader, to his pleasant confoundment, accepts the strangeness as the norm. Or so one hopes.’

I am willing to go along with that. It may be true for some readers of certain tastes and I wonder if there’s an element of perceptual shift that can happen with an artist’s/author’s/composer’s language.  I wonder if the single-minded pursuit of a strangely new way of composing in sound/text/image eventually convinces as a new language which reveals its rules to its intimates. I’ve had experiences that would suggest this is possible. I always found Messaien’s music impenetrable, for example. He used various semi-mystical procedures to structure his compositions and turned more and more to his best attempts at accurate transcriptions of birdsong to provide the melodic layers of his dense style. I went to see a performance of his 5-hour long opera St Francis of Assisi (call me reckless!) and actually, after after an uncomfortable half an hour something clicked and it made real aesthetic sense.

I heard about an experiment that was done where people were given glasses to wear that flipped everything upside down. Because they were forced to wear the glasses the brain after a while compensated by turning the image back up the right way round. I believe in its ability to overcome obstacles and make sense of data.

I know I’ve gone on at some length here, but let me mention a couple of examples of my own writing that show where I am with this question of form and content. Sorry, structure and content, i keep doing that! Maybe we can unpick the specific differences of the meaning of the word ‘form’ in poetry as opposed to visual art….anyway…

This is a poem I wrote a couple of years ago. I was trying hard to follow a rule in which there were units of three syllables (amphimacer feet if we’re being technical) whose sounds were closely echoed in the lines on either side of it, but with a shift forward or backward in the line.


Inverse Relations

The ball of blue string had begun to unravel

loose triads it spun through a savage arena

where one who would have an idea of culture

Comes after a clear gap. No wonder there wasn’t

an ear claps got up for applauses.


Some lately in Norway have said’s said in boardrooms

what might be just hearsay: life’s eerie live, God have

a mercy or call my bluff Mary, as easy

to blame her as fairies or kelpie, unwavering

many who claim for my bairnie.


And those rotes got noticed and therefore were practiced

Gott noticed and therefore were practiced and those rotes

And therefore were practiced and got those rotes noted

Were practised and those rites rotated and therefore

Those notes got notated and therefore


Religion’s not just why recorded performance

endures, ‘Lies!’ according, before my short script, to

Elijah’s. Yet years I’ve accreted, absorbent

through summers which each dropped off dewy recourses

To think that most numbers still injure. most numbers. still.


So you can maybe see that happening. Looking at the first verse, ‘blue string had’ is echoed by ‘loose triads’ before that grouping drops off the left of the line. Also follow the sound echo of ‘unravel’, ‘a savage’, ‘would have an’, ‘comes after’.

I felt really constrained, too constrained, by this patterning and it was only a rare moment in this poem that I felt meaning got the upper hand. A useful exercise though.

Now look if you still have energy(!) at this poem from very recently in which I apply a rule much more loosely, or in fact, it’s just a looser rule. The two verses of ‘in relation to’ follow some of the same rules as a palindrome, but rather than reverse the letters of words individually, I just work backwards through the same vocabulary, picking out my meaning (much more successfully I think) as I go.


    i    in relation to


Your sofa is flammable, sorry, I mean inflammable,

my tone is pertinent, or it’s rather impertinent.

You light here to ask my opinion I don’t know

if I should give it to you I give it to you it’s the same

discoloured, coloured, no difference to the two of us

as divided into posits our indivisibility deposits off limits,


limits indivisibility poses our opposites at, divisions in two

into us the indifferent, discoloured, coloured all the same

it’s for you to give in to me should you give in to me

if I don’t know my opinion? I ask you here too lightly.

It’s impertinent, or is my tone pertinent rather?

I mean, sorry, you’re inflammable. Your sofa also is flammable.


Yes, in the second verse I’m being pushed to say things I wouldn’t have come up with had I sat down afresh, but my meaning is pushing back just as hard and compromises are won between what the form requires and what the meaning can accommodate.

I actually think I like Lawrence Levine’s language in explaining his palindrome much more than the palindrome itself. The language is quite fun enough with its squirrels in rodent cages etc. I wonder how much of his writing style has been influenced by his adventures in vocabulary, and might that not be the real fruit of his exercise?


Enough from me!

Iain x

p.s. things that I do find interesting in that list you sent were ‘aleatory’ writing (where the reader supplies a random input) – not sure if that’s a universally accepted definition, but I like it. Also, ‘mandated vocabulary’ where a writer has to incorporate given words in amongst their own. That’s something I realise I’ve used as a process and have found useful.

A list from Zoe F of some other sorts of constraint writing

The list below is the second half of Zoe’s original dossier of info, sent to kickstart our structure/content discussions. Some of it was new to me. Other things I’ve employed without ever knowing that there was a given term for what I was doing. I enjoy using ‘mandated vocabulary’ for instance, thinking of it as a bit like what Auerbach is reported to have done with his long-running paintings, by leaving a deliberate problem, such as a smear of paint, at the end of each session in the studio, so that he had a something to deal with when he came back to the easel. I find using set words that you have to use, gets you thinking creatively about how to guide your meaning around the word, or indeed to change the course of your meaning to include it – often with greater breadth than your solipsistic starting point.


Other Constrained Writing

  • Lipogram: a letter (commonly e or o) is outlawed.
  • Palindromes, such as the word “radar”, read the same forwards and backwards.
  • Pilish, where the lengths of consecutive words match the digits of the number π.
  • Alliteratives, in which every word must start with the same letter (or subset of letters; see Alphabetical Africa).
  • Acrostics: first letter of each word/sentence/paragraph forms a word or sentence.
  • Reverse-lipograms: each word must contain a particular letter.
  • Twiction: espoused as a specifically constrained form of microfiction where a story or poem is exactly one hundred and forty characters long.
  • Anglish, favouring Anglo-Saxon words over Greek and Roman words.
  • Anagrams, words or sentences formed by rearranging the letters of another.
  • Aleatory, where the reader supplies a random input.
  • Chaterism Where the length of words in a phrase or sentence increase or decrease in a uniform, mathematical way as in “I am the best Greek bowler running”, or “hindering whatever tactics appear”.
  • Univocalic poetry, using only one vowel.
  • Bilingual homophonous poetry, where the poem makes sense in two different languages at the same time, thus constituting two simultaneous homophonous poems.[1]
  • One syllable article, a form unique to Chinese literature, using many characters all of which are homophones; the result looks sensible as writing but is incomprehensible when read aloud.
  • Limitations in punctuation, such as Peter Carey‘s book True History of the Kelly Gang, which features no commas.
  • Mandated vocabulary, where the writer must include specific words, chosen a priori, along with the writer’s own freely chosen words (for example, Quadrivial Quandary, a website that solicits individual sentences containing all four words in a daily selection).

The Oulipo Group

The group defines the term littérature potentielle as (rough translation): “the seeking of new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy.”

Oulipo was founded on November 24, 1960, as a subcommittee of the Collège de ‘Pataphysique and titled Séminaire de littérature expérimentale. At their second meeting, the group changed its name to Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, or Oulipo, at Albert-Marie Schmidt’s suggestion. The idea had arisen two months earlier, when a small group met in September at Cerisy-la-Salle for a colloquium on Queneau’s work. During this seminar, Queneau and François Le Lionnais conceived of the society.

La disparition or A Void

Perec’s novel La disparition, translated into English by Gilbert Adair and published under the title A Void, is a 300-page novel written without the letter “e,” an example of a lipogram. The English translation, A Void, is also a lipogram. The novel is remarkable not only for the absence of “e,” but it is a mystery in which the absence of that letter is a central theme.

Fothergill-collaboration. Excerpt #1

So, earlier this week, I posted this blog post about the collaboration I’m doing with artist Zoe Fothergill. This is the first of the windows onto our discussion on structure and content. With the following words, Zoe launched us off into collaboration again:


‘so i contacted jennie and she i quote

would LOVE

for us to do a KL

she suggests a wee visit

to reccie the venue

as they have new hoos

but just around the corner

what say you, fancy a gander?

let me know when might suit

we chatted about a blog or sommat

to gather our thoughts

but i remember you wanted to use yours

so i haven’t set up another

not exactly sure re mechanics

so have attached a word doc

with some intial thoughts

and a pdf that relates

so just show me the way

and i’ll happily work

with what works for you’


Zoe started us off with some ideas on structure, going back to the Romans:

and ‘…starting with the simple palindrome.’

The Sator Square

79 AD –“The farmer Arepo has works wheels”

Another Latin palindrome,

In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni” (We go wandering at night and are consumed by fire)



Never odd or even

tattarrattat, coined by James Joyce in Ulysses (1922) for a knock on the door



[this was one of my favourite discoveries from Zoe’s list!]

Weird Al Jankovic – Bob




In English, two palindromic novels have been published:

Satire: Veritas by David Stephens (1980, 58,795 letters),


Dr Awkward & Olson in Oslo by Lawrence Levine (1986, 31,954 words).


In French, Oulipo writer George Perec’s “Grand Palindrome” (1969) is 5,556 letters in length


In Hebrew, Noam Dovev wrote a 363-word, 1331-letter palindromic story called, “Do god”


Iain again!:

There’s more to come on different types of constraint writing, but I’ll break it down into another post later in the week.


Enter stage left: Zoe Fothergill!

Hello all, and hello particularly Zoe Fothergill, and welcome back indeed.

I had interesting, productive fun collaborating with Zoe about a year ago (see earlier blog post here). Zoe’s a visual artist with a strong interest in science and in particular the science of perception, I’d say. She’s invited me to collaborate with her again in a discussion leading to a possible ‘kitchen lecture’ with Project!!WAKAKA! which is all rather apposite because Zoe and I met for the first time at one of the Annuale 2011 kitchen lectures and were the sole members of the pub quiz team called ‘the fuck you uppers’. I still remember Deborah Jackson’s attempt to resolve a tie by getting us to ‘do something extraordinary’. That shared look of panic/inspiration that led to the singing of The Bangles ‘Eternal Flame’ eternally linked us in some way. Or am I misremembering/mythologising? Either way, a spark was sparked and it’ll be fun to go back into that Wakakacontext again as a different sort of unit.

Zoe’s initiated a conversation with me on structure and content. It’s something we talked about in our earlier project a lot, while we wrestled/wrested with where one becomes the other, and the extent to which form is the stuff of content. I’ve just done there what I keep doing, which is to slip from talking about structure to calling it form. We’re working out at the moment what the difference might be. I wonder if partly there’s a culture of talking about form in poetry where the word means something different in visual art, but we haven’t resolved that one yet.

I’m going to be using this blog to post updates on and windows onto our conversations, which at the moment involve mainly emails, handily for cutting and pasting. So, if you’re interested, keep an eye on this space. And of course, come to the lecture! But that’ll be a while yet, probably in Spring. This online activity is part of the project though, and hopefully will be interesting in addition to whatever we end up with in performance.


I live on Edinburgh’s West Port and it’s a noisy tonight out on the street. You really notice the passing drunk groups mid-week, because the castle-dominated lulls are so quiet, I guess. People like to be loud and happy. Am pretty sure someone just went past strumming a ukelele.