5: Univocalic lipogram (single-vowel poem)

A univocalic is a type of lipogrammatic constrained writing that uses only a single vowel, “A”, “E”, “I”, “O”, or “U”, and no others. – Wikipedia


the nestled sleep,
the feed’s smell,
the eggs’ feel.

This form initially struck me as shallow and gimmicky, so I approached it with the goal of finding some way to work meaningfully with this constraint, some way to make it about more than just being clever enough to do it. I read Christian Bök’s Eunoia, which is made of five chapters – one for each vowel – and exhausts, apparently, 98% of the available vocabulary for each vowel. Eunoia, though, only reinforced my dislike the form, being, to my mind, clever without being intelligent or wise (and also weirdly orientalist and misogynist for someone as young and well-educated as Bök). I got the impression that Bök was expecting me to be clutching at my pearls because his book wasn’t, I don’t know, Billy Collins or Tennyson. I’m all for a bit of the old épater le bourgeois but I feel like the particular bourgeois who would be shocked by Bök’s poem are long dead. But Eunoia sold well and got prizes, so other people clearly liked it.

I ultimately failed to find a way into this form, sadly, so I opted to write something as concrete and unpretentious as I could – to resist the tendency of the form to abstraction and cleverness. The only way to to do this is to keep the poem short enough to actually focus on some real referent. I chose hens because I was inspired by Anna’s lovely take on alexandrines, where she leverages the humbleness of the hen against the loftiness of Romantic ideals.

I also got some bonus anaphora in here because I guess that’s what happens when you’re working with a severely limited vocabulary.


3 thoughts on “5: Univocalic lipogram (single-vowel poem)

  1. I think there will never be as lovely a univocalic lipogram as your hen poem, ever in the history of univocalic lipograms.

    I did have a go though and found myself turning to anaphora as you did, and to ghosts, which, like memory, go well with anaphora. I was going to write only about ghosts, but I tried substituting god in one of the lines to see what would happen, really hoping to turn back to ghosts with more thoughts on ghosts, but then I decided I could structure the poem around the contrast. First of all I wrote:

    God knows tomorrow, knows worry, knows growth.
    Ghosts know hollows, know sorrows, know words.
    To choose ghosts, go slow.
    To choose god, work.

    Then I thought that God ought to know words, so I tried changing it around, but I still found words worked better in the ghosts line. At first I thought I preferred it this way around anyway, but now I think I prefer the first, because I think it offers a more ambiguous choice:

    Ghosts know tomorrow, know worry, know words.
    God knows hollows, knows sorrow, knows growth.
    To choose god, go slow.
    To choose ghosts, work.

    • Wonderful! I guess it is possible to write good poems with only one vowel. I’m still stuck on trying to make the form itself meaningful but maybe it doesn’t need to be if it produces good results? I don’t know.

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