Oulipost, Day 3 – Definitional Lit


Today’s Oulipost constraint is definitional lit – a poem composed of dictionary definitions.  The process is to select a sentence from your paper, and replace each significant word in the sentence (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.) with its definition from the dictionary.  You can continue to do this repeatedly, until you have the amount of material you want, then arrange the  line breaks, stanzas, and spacing.  I went through my sentence only twice.
An interesting twist in this process is that there are multiple definitions of most words, and you can take your pick.  Had I wanted to go in a different direction with this, my dictionary offered me “powdered cocaine” as a possible use of the word snow.  Clearly, different writers and different dictionaries could result in a number of variations from any given sentence.
I didn’t expect to like the outcome of this exercise, but have to confess that I’m delighted.  The poem has a loose, flowing feel that isn’t usually present in my writing, and the repetition of words from one definition to the next gives the piece a sense of rhythm.  I also really like the tone – from a simple sentence about snow days, the poem is evocative of time passing and the fleeting nature of childhood.  Definitional lit is a constraint I will be certain to try again. Hope you enjoy, and please check out today’s definitional work by other Ouliposters.


snow days are unpredictable –

precipitation falling from clouds
in the form of ice crystals,
the time during which someone’s life
continues, impossible to foretell

the act of casting down, falling
headlong from a height, coming down
freely under the influence of gravity

a visible mass of water, ice particles
suspended at a considerable altitude
a perceptual structure of water
in a solid state

a highly regular atomic structure,
the continuum of experience in
which events pass from the future,
to the present, to the past

the course of existance of an individual,
to keep or maintain in an unaltered
condition, something that cannot be done
or make a prediction about – snow days


source text, Boston Globe, April 3. McCabe, Kathy. Snow days just one factor on when school’s out


7 thoughts on “Oulipost, Day 3 – Definitional Lit

  1. I love the polysyllabic loveliness that propels me through the lines, and then to end with the short 2-punch of ‘snow days’. and this–>” something that cannot be done / or make a prediction about – snow days.” Brava!

  2. I thought figuring out how to break the lines and display the poem was one of the biggest challenges here. I also found it hard not to get sucked into the definitional language because it was so fun. You managed to create something so cohesive. This is wonderful Sonja, and flows so smoothly.

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