Sunday, August 26, 2018

Wily Paul Wylie: Alphabet Squared



The inimitable Paul Wylie today sent me a scrap of alphabet squared he’d written. Alphabet squared is an Oulipian genre, and though Paul’s version doesn’t accomplish the squared, I think he’s managed a ticklish single run through.

The task in alphabet squared is to write a text in which the first letter of each word corresponds to a letter of the alphabet, the words running in alphabetic succession. And so “Although Bostonians can’t dance, …” might make a serviceable opening phrase for such a tale, the letters running A, B, C, D.

Although Bostonians can’t dance, each Friday Gwen had invited …
etc.

To pull off true alphabet squared, one must go through the alphabet 26 times. I nearly finished one such tale years ago, but tired of it before completion.

Part of the challenge of course is to write something fetching and natural enough that the tale succeeds and the reader doesn’t notice the draconian rule according to which it’s been written.

Wylie sent me the following.

NEWLYWED

And Brian cried.
      ”Dead?"
      ”Exactly."
      ”Fuck. Great.”
      “Here..."
      ”I just killed Laura! My newlywed."
      ”Oh, please.”
      ”Quiet!”
      ”Respectful silence?"
      ”Tomorrow…underground!"
      ”Villainous waste.”
      ”Xavier… Your zipper."

Oulipian challenges are a mug’s game, yes. But this one, alphabet squared—give it a try. It's harder than it looks. Wylie here opts for dialogue, and does it well. My efforts have been making a prose narrative.

E.M.

Update 8/27: Received a second one today. This time I think Wylie did a great job on the opening lines, but I'm responsible for most of the rest. So, a collaboration:

MARK OF CAIN

Abel’s brother Cain disappointed everyone.
      “Feeble guy," historians intoned.
      "Jealously killed livestock."
      “Murderer."
      “Never offered peak quality."
      "Really striking tattoo!"
      "Unusually vindictive. Wanker."
      "Xenophobe. Yammering zealot."

Have some deadpan with your coffee. Check out Idiocy, Ltd. Dryest humor in the west.

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