“Aleister Crowley Lipogram” is written in a form that excludes one or more letters of the alphabet. A few years ago, my friend Wisconsin poet Mark Zimmermann further refined the lipogram by developing first-person narratives using only the letters contained in a literary or historical character’s name.
I wrote this poem from May 26th to June 6th, 2014. The first week was spent assembling a word list. I printed the letters of Crowley’s name in alphabetical order across the top of a page, and then searched the dictionary for words consisting of only those letters. I did this an hour or two each morning.
I ended up with 500 words, three pages of handwritten columns, five columns per page. Next step was highlighting likely words (a, access, act, actor, air, aisle…). Of 183 highlighted words, I ended up using 65. Actual composition was June 2 – 6, again, an hour or two each morning. Writing this poem was a blast!
Even more than other forms, a lipogram meets the writer halfway in the writing. Phrases assemble themselves independent of author intent, like crystals forming in a supersaturated solution. The poem is part artifact, conveying far less of the poet’s personality than other forms. Picture an old pachinko machine—the dropping metal ball diverted by each set of pegs encountered on its trip from top to bottom.
Besides a certain inevitability of composition, the form’s narrow word choice parameters give you a relative handful of similar words. It’s a process of sonic distilling, resulting in the lipogram’s rich sounds.
Once you’ve plodded through the dictionary grunt work, the composition part of writing a lipogram is FUN…and results in a product that’s fun for the reader! For your first one, I’d suggest a subject you’re thoroughly familiar with—an author you’ve read every book by, or a favorite musician whose songs have been your soundtrack more than once.
Speaking of fun, a book-length collection of lipograms by Mark Zimmermann is due to be released soon from Pebblebrook Press. You can find out more at http://www.stoneboatwi.com/index.htm