“You start out in difficulty”: An Interview with Dan Albergotti

Field_of_Light_by_Bruce_Munro_(12642954763)Dan Albergotti is the author of two books of poems, The Boatloads (BOA Editions, 2008) and Millennial Teeth (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014), as well as a limited-edition chapbook, The Use of the World (Unicorn Press, 2013). A graduate of the MFA program at UNC Greensboro and former poetry editor of The Greensboro Review, he is a professor of English at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC. Dan’s poems harness inventive (and sometimes invented) formal strategies to give shape to and amplify a deeply human, deeply American voice: like your dearest, oldest friend hunkered beside you at the bar who just happens to speak in couplets.

Matthew Thorburn: Throughout Millennial Teeth one finds sonnets like “December 25, 2005,” written in a very taut syllabic, rhyming form in which each line expands by two syllables, up to 14 syllables, then back down to two syllables for the last line. How did this form come about?

Dan Albergotti: That’s a form I invented about ten years ago, and a good friend has christened it the Albergonnet (a silly name, I know, but I’ve embraced it). When I first imagined it, I thought the tight rhyme at the beginning and end would make the form unwieldy. The rhyme scheme is couplet, so the Albergonnet demands that the writer establish a sound for the initial rhyme in the second syllable of the poem and then provide the rhyme for it only four syllables later. At the end, the last rhyme occurs only two syllables apart. So opening and closing the poem is formally a pretty stiff challenge, so much so that when I sat down to write the first one I thought it would necessarily be a failure.

I was really surprised when it turned out not to be. Then I wrote another, then another, then another, and the results kept improving. I had just been playing around with the elements of form, imagining something that seemed absurd in the abstract, but I think along the way I stumbled onto a possibly durable invention.Continue Reading

The Formal Imagination of Oulipo

Founded in 1960 by a collective of French mathematicians and writers, Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (Workshop of Potential Literature), or Oulipo, was established to identify new forms of writing using numerical and alphabetical constraints. Early member Georges Perec, for example, structured his novel Life A User’s Manuel according to the Knight’s Tour algorithm, in which the knight visits every square of a chess board exactly once. Similarly, Mike Keith used the first 3,835 digits of pi (3.14…) to determine the length of each word in his short story “Cadaeic Cadenza” (the first word being composed of three letters, the next of a single letter, and so forth).

At first glance, Oulipian works such as these seemingly contradict those old saws of storytelling: we do not know where ideas come from, and there is no formula for writing them. For me, this prompted early distrust toward Oulipo: that trendy name, the suggestion of ease—it all seemed too convenient and marketable, a quick-fix formula for improving the creative life. I imagined stiff, impractical prose held aloft as the source of something irreducible. I cringed at the idea of constraints allowed near the expansiveness of art. I will admit to this: originally, I viewed the members of Oulipo more as evil scientists than authors.
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