Cousins

M. asked recently whether the endearments are beaux présents. This is a good question.

A beau présent is an Oulipian constraint created by Georges Perec. It is composed in honor (or in insult) of someone, and it’s made using only the letters of that person’s name.

The beau présent employs as many repetitions of the letters in the original name as the writer desires. In one example I’ve seen, the fs and double ls scrolling down the page in line after line look so luxurious.

The endearments, by contrast, are made with only the letters in the original word, and each new word used in the poem must have its source in a discrete anagram of the original word.

Each of these requires a certain kind of thinking and results in a different kind of poem. But the poems are similar in the way that their sounds persist and suggest, but do not directly say, the original word. And similar in that they both liberate the sounds from the original word and allow them to play as they will.

I’d say the endearment is cousin to the beau présent. The younger cousin who lives in the tiny town by the river and hardly ever makes it across the sea to the big city where the other cousin lives, the one with the money and the documented history. But who has a good time there and doesn’t miss the city much, never having had occasion to love it more than the little town.

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