Poetry Rivals 2016

Taking poetry from the page to the stage!

Constrained Writing Workshop

Date Posted: 08-09-2014 10:33:09

Constrained writing is a technique where a set condition is adhered to, whether something is forbidden or a certain pattern is used.


Oulipo is a group of writers whose aim was to create works using constrained writing techniques.


Constraints are very common in poetry. Here are a few examples:


Lipogram: a certain letter is forbidden.


‘A Void’ is a novel written by Perec without using the letter ‘e’


Pilish: the length of each consecutive word must match the digits of π (pi)


Here are the 1st 31 digits of pi:  3.141592653589793238462643383279


And here is a poem by Joseph Shipley in which each word matches in length to these digits:

But a time I spent wandering in bloomy night;

Yon tower, tinkling chimewise, loftily opportune.

Out, up, and together came sudden to Sunday rite,

The one solemnly off to correct plenilune.


Acrostic: The first letter of each line spells out a word or sentence.


Palindromes: A word or phrase that reads the same forwards and backwards.


                          There are 4 main ways you can use palindromes as constrained writing:


  • Character by character in a single word: madam, refer, radar
  • Word by word: ‘So patient a doctor to doctor a patient so’
  • Line by line: see the poem ‘Doppelganger’ by JA Lindon
  • Character by character in a whole line: ‘Ma is as selfless as I am’


Univocalic: Using only one vowel.


‘Eunoia’ is an anthology of univocalics by the Canadian poet Christian Bök. Each chapter uses only one vowel throughout.


Also check out ‘The Fens’ by our very own Poetry Rivals judge Mark Grist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gxrZcjrn8M


Can you write a poem using one of these techniques? Or perhaps you have another you’d like to try. Send us the result...

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