Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Puzzle poem: "Cadaeic Cadenza"

I recently came across poet Mike Keith's 1996 "Cadaeic Cadenza", a piece of Oulipo-inspired constrained writing (like the Oulipo books that have been written entirely without the letter 'e') where the entire poem is a puzzle. Your task is to figure out the constraint. I couldn't figure it out and gave up, and of course it was obvious in retrospect and I'm kicking myself.

The piece includes versions of famous poems, rewritten to obey Keith's secret constraint. His Jabberwocky puts all the other versions to shame:

"Jabwocky"

Borogove, strange slithy troves,
A brilligtime quickstep
Mimsy creatures, gimblified,
Frolicked on a steppe.

Here's his take on Eliot:
"Prufrock"

I have spied mermaid scales going fast underneath the waves,
Endlessly traversing an aquatic continent;
Wandering the high seas, capricious and content.

and Poe:
"A Raven"

Completely disturbed, I said, "Utter, please, what prevails ahead.
Repose, relief, cessation, or but more dreary 'nevermores'?"
The bird intruded thence - O, irritation ever since! -
Then sat on Pallas' pallid bust, watching me (I sat not, therefore),
And stated "nevermores".

These are all just short excerpts of much longer poems, which stand alone surprisingly well considering his conceit. If you want a hint, highlight the text between here You can figure out the constraint just by looking at the title. It has to do with numbers. and here.