The first assignment for students in the freshman seminar “Wordplay: A Wry Plod from Babel to Scrabble” was to produce a piece of constrained writing – a literary form in which a restriction has been placed on word choice. Familiar forms are the use of rhyme and meter. Others are more challenging: banning the use of one or more letters, or requiring that every word begin with the same letter. Following are several examples of constrained writing that students submitted for the course.

Essentially I wrote my own "article" about our class.  The title is a pangram of the assignment description from the syllabus: we were supposed to create "an (ideally unconventional) example of ludic verbal art," so that is what I titled my piece, in a way.  That is the most significant thing about this piece. The content of the article refers to characteristics of our class and the works we studied, and the copy undergoes a series of constraints.  In the first, the initial letters of each word are in consecutive alphabetical order. Next I remove all "e"s to allude to La Disparition.  Then I write a series of sections; one only using "e"s for vowels, the next only "u"s, then a section in which each word has an "n," then one with only "o"s, one with "i"s and one with "a,"s and this spells Eunoia, another work we read in class that utilizes those same constraints.  Finally I write a part in which the last letter of each word is the same as the first letter of the next word, and end with a palindrome.  "January 15" refers to FRS 115, the course code, and this seminar was deemed the "William H. Burchfield 1902" seminar, which explains those details.

Clan of (Lexical) Love Livened up by Tart Man, Eunoia Land

By Hannah Martins '13

PRINCETON, New Jersey — A bubbly collection, distinctly endangered freshmen, gather hope in Joshua Katz.   Learning meticulous “nonsense” offers perceivable qualities—really!—says that University veteran who x-rays youth zealously.  

  Katz stirs up a passion that 15 kids guard against a contagious normalcy, a normalcy coming from loads of “ordinary” classwork.   Crosswords, anagrams, and all kinds of wordplay fill hours of back and forth in his class.  

  A proof? For a book with such a constraint on its writing (it lacks a thing that most similarly smooth writing cannot do without), La Disparition can stir discussion in this room without any strain at all.  

  Every meet, the expert serves refreshments: he feeds the crew sweets. These presents prevent heedless p.m. sleep.  

  “Puns blurt truth; puns sum up; puns strum, sculpt, pump up!”—statements only confident, uniquely fascinated (and fascinating) students can pronounce. None cannot converse candidly nor consistently flaunt language-twisting knacks.  

    Prof. Josh molds, looks for bold growth, jots mottos or works to forgo non-odd schoolwork.   Dorks follow, bow, love.  

  His inviting spirits instill din; mimicking his distinct script splits infinite grins.   Any man can call a standard class a ball—a standard class adds math talk, chalk scratch and mad crafts: all attack an abstract art.

    To order relevant thoughts, students scan neat texts; some explain notions surrounding genre, extras show wordplay, yielding gasps.  

  Several lament that to observe experts, showing gem movies serve excellently.   Yet there exist time errors stunting good distinct dates set to observe each hosting. Granted, diverse examples succeed, displaying grand deftness (spelling, getting giggles, solving great text-teasers).

  Fun re-veneers simple poor data in “If…”  

     Fini a tad droop. ‘“Elp! Mis’sree! Never ‘nuf!”

An independent newspaper. Published continuously since 1902. Publisher William H. Burchfield

The constraint of my piece, as hinted at by the title, is that I refrain from using 10 new words per paragraph —picked, in order from first to last, from the list of the 100 words most commonly used in English.  This is cumulative, so that by the 10th paragraph, I can use none of those hundred words.  The limited words themselves are given in bold in the italicized sentences preceding each paragraph.

As the piece goes on, my style by necessity departs from some standard conventions of the English language; the narrator parallels this shift by departing similarly from sanity and societally acceptable behavior. The piece also indirectly references a number of things discussed over the course of our class, as well as members of said class; this is most notable in (but certainly not limited to) the second and third paragraphs.  Aside from that, there are a couple of Easter Eggs that don't really bear mentioning.

DECIMATION

By Michael Newman ’13

I have always been that which I meant to be: in a nutshell, the best and worst of man.

Gently jangling, one chiming chorus heralds my entrance.   Its melodious murmuring, echoing cautiously from clappers unmuffled, checks my swift admittance through this portentous portal.   Stop, commands my subconscious.   Gaze at this peripheral reflection, this silvery doppelgänger.   Admire firm lines trailing down his brow, reaching jutting jaw.   Appreciate it all: cheeks some call gaunt, eyes some call hollow.   Chide their ignorance; laugh.   These cheeks display no corpulent indulgence.   These eyes carry steel.

Do as you wish, for if liberty is not had by man, you may count on it that he is at odds with nature.

My giddy feet escape my mind's enthrallment, dragging my reluctant body through this door.   Inside, playful lilies prance vivaciously from pots, perhaps seeking prizes awarded by merit, or beauty.   Still-small saplings lurk suspiciously nearby, marked by potential but, concerning stature, paranoid.   Around one such seedling twines one gaily-colored ribbon, vainly brightening mood or encouraging levity.   Carelessly tossed aside, one tattered rag rests forlornly, wistfully recalling glorious days spent serving, in handkerchief form, his fair lady.

This they told her: We say she judges from afar, but this distance arises by his negligence.

My head shakes, brushes away these trivialities – distractions, like obnoxiously squawking capercaillies, or overly rowdy cocks.   My back straightens, fresh focus stiffening spirit, body, face.   Yet, determination stumbles over frustration: where hides my target?   Suddenly, my goal enters my vision frame, eliciting satisfied, sardonic smiling.   Occupying one bench, some dedicated clerk intently counts African Violets, obliviously ignoring large ants trekking across forenamed workspace.   How many violets?   Focused clerk counts: ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one-hundred.   “Give me ten, please.”

There will be an enigmatic musketeer, proclaiming their creed of one for all and all for one, who cannot understand what my people would need, or want.

Counting now ceased, clerk looks up, confirming previous question.   After quick nods assure assent, counting resumes: two, three, four.   Fingers drum impatiently against soil-spangled bench.   Despite stated request, our visit's purpose surpasses irrelevant violets; time passes maddeningly slowly. Eight, nine, ten.   Tissue paper crinkles around moistened stems; ownership passes like some runner's baton.   Abruptly, deft hands snatch particular violets, thrusting aforementioned flowers before concerned clerk.   “No!”

So which of you will rise up and get out of the mud, to go with me to places unseen?   If no one, who still has wits and courage about him?

Caught off guard, crass clerk curses colorfully before collecting composure.   “Problem, sir?” Certain violets, our gestures indicate, fail acceptable standards.   Rejected unceremoniously, poor violet stems suffer damning fates: sharpened scissors, briskly grunting snip-snap, snip-snap.   Others, compensating, join previously approved flowers, bundled brusquely. “Six dollars, thirty cents, sir.”

When can a man like him make time to know just how much strength a “notakes?

“Six dollars, thirty cents?”   Billfold opens: two Jacksons, two Hamiltons, three Washingtons.   Hamilton, bidding twin adieu, sallies forth solo.   Survivors invariably trickle home: three Washingtons – coupling weathered veterans –   preceding five clinking Roosevelts.   Five?   Wherefore five?   Hamilton merits three oppression-ending generals, seven depression-mending fireside chatters.   Elaborate, imagined Burr-like machinations inspire roiling indecision.   Accident?   Malevolent scheme?   Inside, something snaps.

Looking into your eyes: other people could see some good in them.   I see wickedness, year after year after year of it.

“Filthy swindler!   Cheating knave!”   Hoarse, indignant roars flee our throat.   Crafty clerk expresses shock, puzzlement – indubitably feigned.   Clerk's already-ruddy face reddens, haltingly emitting stammering syllables.   Gaunt – strong – cheeks tighten, accompanying our clenching jaw, gut, fist.   Tension soars; inside, however, our sanguinary soul capriciously welcomes bootless violence.   Our heart savors blood's coppery piquancy.

Now, think over its effects more than its causes; look how only then also comes evil.

“Sorry, sir.   Here, twenty cents.”   Attempting appeasement, emphatic apologies wax eloquent.   Such temerity; such audacity!   Merely thirty silver pieces, purchase our principles?   Unlikely – moral judgment prevails.   Termination must proceed; consequently, our fingers lunge, grab, tighten.   Choking clerk coughs, gasps; evidently, ebullience excludes everyone effervescing essential oxygen. Deprived, catatonic clerk slumps across bench; our heart thrashes wildly against thoracic cavity.

How do our forgotten skills come back after use?   This way, success in round two requires it to work well at first.

Triumphant tremors overtake these limbs; clerk gasps, nearly expired.   Almost finished, almost ended – huh?   Sudden, shearing pain.   Stupidly staring, self gawks downward.   Frighteningly, prediction denies positive prognosis: modus operandi matches previous violet murder case.   Again, sharpened scissors briskly grunt snip-snap, snip-snap.   Fluid flows through recently created epidermal slits, flooding flower shop's floor.   Pale, trembling attacker, thus thwarted, drops heavily.

This regret is a new pain because even now, I want the most any of these days can give us.

Oppressive darkness encroaches peripheral vision. Glacial fangs, fiery talons rake across excruciatingly pierced abdomen less enthusiastically; numbness begins.   Shrieking sorrowfully, self settles against unforgiving tiles, blood loss unabated.   Focus dims, sharpens, dims. Inevitably, heart slows while vision narrows, spotlighting frolicsome lilies still exhibiting transcendent grace, aiming meditation outward.   Heart stops, chest jerks. Fair flowers, farewell.

Each fairy tale consists of 100 words and contains another fairy tale whose ending is roughly opposite that of the original story. To discover the second fairy tale, arrange the words of the first fairy tale in a 10-by-10 square (the first 10 words on the first line, the second 10 words on the second line, etc.) and read in a clockwise spiral moving inwards. Punctuation can be difficult.



































Constrained writing sample, painted on canvas

This project experiments with ambigrams -- words written in such a way that they also form a word when viewed upside down. Lolita, Ella, Eunoia, and text all become the same word when rotated. (Lolita, Ella Minnow Pea, and Eunoia were books we read in the seminar, and we also discussed texting and its effects on language.) Word, crossword, and Panera, however, become different words. Word becomes play, crossword becomes Princeton, and Panera becomes elated, much as we became upon partaking of the weekly treats Professor Katz brought us from Panera Bread. The other words written as crosswords around the ambigrams are terms related to the class in various ways. (My attempt at turning Megan into an ambigram is in the bottom right corner, although given that Professor Katz admitted he at first mistook it for "vegan," I was perhaps not quite successful.)

Photo: Courtesy Joshua Katz
This piece presents two sides of a love affair gone wrong, between Ed and Ida. Both accounts use the same letters, in precisely the same order, but punctuated and spaced differently to present two very different sides of the same story.

Ed and Ida had a small love affair that went wrong:



A word from Ed: