The Writhing Society
In April 2009 Wendy Walker and I began the WRITHING SOCIETY, a constrained-writing salon at the Proteus Gowanus Gallery and Reading Room in Brooklyn. Since Proteus Gowanus closed, we have met twice twice monthly at the homes of committed writhers, but our sessions are still open to everyone, and we welcome newcomers. We meet on Wednesdays from 7 – 9 pm. There is no fee for attending. Anyone can walk in; no reservations needed, nor any prior experience, only a delight in language and a willingness to play. We explain what needs explaining, but this isn't a class, so minimal instruction. There is no set sequence of topics; we do whatever seems most interesting on any given night and do not follow any sort of syllabus. Usually we write, but from time to time we try out constraints in visual or visual-verbal composition. Often the leaders only sketch out an idea for a constraint, and the writhers refine or reinvent it. We often engage in collaborative composition, passing work around the table for others to extend. And we always read aloud what we've written, not for critique as in a writing workshop, but because in this sort of writing the listener often finds a sense that had escaped the writer, who comes away liking the work better for having been shown that meaning.
Posts go out (usually on Tuesdays) from our google group, to announce the constraint to be practiced at our next meeting. To enroll in that group, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. When you see what we're going to do, you can choose if you'd like to attend or not, or you can do it on your own.
What is constrained writing? When Georges Perec of OULIPO wrote La Disparition, he did not use the letter E; this was his constraint. Constrained writing involves composing text by imposing rules that are invented and arbitrary. It is a surrender of control, it requires taking directions from something outside your own immediate intention. Writers are compelled to say what they had never thought to say in ways they never would have chosen to say it. It is a method for making sense differently; for escaping stale, ready-made ideas, subjects, and formulations; for creating many and various alternative realities and discovering what is true in them.
We draw inspiration from several sources, most importantly the French group OULIPO — Italo Calvino, Georges Perec, Harry Mathews, Raymond Queneau, Jacques Roubaud, Ian Monk, Michèle Métail — and from others practicing similar methods: Raymond Roussel, Gilbert Sorrentino, Doug Nufer, Tom Phillips, Ronald Johnson, Jen Bervin. Please join us!