Oulipost #3: Definitional Lit


The prompt: Select a single sentence from a newspaper article. Replace each meaningful word in the text [verb, noun, adjective, adverb] by its dictionary definition. Repeat this treatment on the resulting sentence, and so on, until you’ve had enough! Note that after only two such treatments with a relatively compact dictionary, even a two-word sentence can produce an accumulation of 57 words.

My sentence: “Both teams had chances to take the lead late in the match.”




The one as well as the other

group of people

who work together as draft animals,

harnessed to the same vehicle

or implement,

assumed impersonal

purposeless determiners of unaccountable happenings–

the more likely indications

in the haphazard course of events.


To move against (as an opponent’s piece in chess)

or remove from play.

To get possession of (as fish or game)

by killing or capturing.

To partake of.             To copulate with.

To receive into one’s body (as by swallowing, drinking,

or inhaling).

To put oneself into (as sun, air, or water)

for pleasure     or physical benefit.

To transfer into one’s own keeping.


As a vanguard, the act (or privilege) of playing first

in a card game,

in a dramatic production,

the course of a rope from end

to end.             A margin,

or measure of advantage or superiority

remaining after the due, usual,

or proper time to fit together

(or make suitable for fitting together).


To flip or toss (coins) and compare exposed faces.

To set in comparison. To set in competition,

or opposition.


A person or thing equal or similar to another,

one able to cope with another.


Source: Associated Press. “Green makes US debut in 2-2 draw with Mexico.” courierpress.com. Evansville Courier & Press. Web. 3 April 2014.

Definitions: http://www.merriam-webster.com/

So, common consensus is, this exercise is simultaneously fun and confusing, and all the cool kids are writing behind-the-scenes bits about how they finagled it. So, for what it’s worth, here’s mine:

I started with the sentence, “Both teams had chances to take the lead late in the match.” My hardbound dictionary is sixty miles away, so off to http://www.merriam-webster.com/ I went. I wanted to include something from each important word’s definition, in order. “Both” just led to the first line, while the super-meaty word of “take” later in the sentence fueled multiple lines. Hell, a definitional poem could be written entirely from “take.”  I took to heart one of the guiding principles of the Oulipost Project: “Make the rules your own. Think of each day’s prompt as a general guideline. While you’ll want to make sure your piece at least loosely adheres to the prompt, feel free morph the guidelines and add/remove constraints as you find personally challenging.”

In other words, have fun Make it your own. Put your own spin on it, and play!

Read how other Ouliposters tackled this prompt here.




Filed under Oulipost, Poetry

13 responses to “Oulipost #3: Definitional Lit

  1. Love this, am referring to it again and again as I try to write my own. Spacing is beautiful and evocative.

    • Thank you so much! For me, this was the most fun exercise so far, and I’m constantly in awe of how many different directions people go with their approaches!

  2. poeticmatters

    This is great, Jody. I especially like the line “to end. A margin,” and, after traversing the rich language of the poem, to end with this “one able to cope with another.”

  3. I’m amazed how much material you got from a single run through! Especially like the third stanza.

  4. Yes! Thank you for the reminder that we should not be so constrained we forget to work with spacing and breaks. This is wonderful, Jody.

    • Thank you, Margo! I came into the warmups thinking, “Oh no! Must not deviate from the conditions of the exercise!” …like, what? We were going to be graded? The bit in the playbook urging us to have fun, make the poems our own, and bend/modify rules for the sake of the poem struck a chord. Yours have been an absolute delight to read!

  5. your parentheticals are awesome – especially love the coin toss stanza, and the sound in ” implement,/ assumed impersonal/purposeless determiners” – i just want to say that bit out loud over and over. well done.

  6. Well done Jody! For some reason I especially like “To flip or toss (coins) and compare exposed faces.” But I found this exercise almost TOO fun. Endless possibilities. You achieved a lot. I agree about the parentheticals.

    • Thank you, Beth. I found this day’s exercise very open-ended, too, but I’ve read through every Ouliposter I can see, and today has been a highlight for a lot of folks, yeah?

  7. This is stellar. I especially like that you gave so much back story…your thought processes and so on, took the time to remind us the rules are flexible and that we’re to be having fun. It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos of April and forget that. Today WAS fun…I enjoy what you’ve done immensely.


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