As if Parisian tents and 18-point times weren’t already high enough on my love list… now there’s the Metro Poem, ala Jacques Jouet, who, according to Daniel Levin Becker “burns all his drafts.” Which has me imagining, of course, the musings of my darling Magdalena as she navigates La Cienega from Fairview (or at the very least the 10) to Rodeo. I’m keeping the constraints (as outlined below) but adjusting the stops if you will… from the open and close of the metro’s door to the irrational alternation of red and green traffic lights: When the light turns red, you write the line down. When the cars start again, you begin to compose the second line. No writing while the car is in motion; no composing while it’s stopped. And instead of stations, we’ll use neighborhoods to break our stanzas. We’ll call it the Unbuilt Highway Poem with a nod to the Beverly Hills freeway that never was.
“The Metro Poem: it’s a free-verse form with rigid compositional rules. You get on the metro and compose the first line of a poem in your head. When the train makes its first stop, you write the line down. When the train starts again, you begin to compose the second line. No writing while the train is in motion; no composing while it’s stopped. If you change to a different metro line, you pause on the platform to write down the line you composed before getting off, then start a new stanza for the next leg of the trip. You write down the last line upon arriving at your destination, and then go wherever it is you were going in the first place.
The metro poem is oulipian mostly in the sense that, if done rigorously, it’s surprisingly challenging—straightforward as it sounds, the time strictures make it less like a Surrealist free-association exercise and more like a suicide-aerobics drill for the parts of your mind that usually make observations into ruminations and ruminations into language. It constrains the space around your thoughts, not the letters or words in which you will eventually fit them: you have to work to think thoughts of the right size, to focus on the line at hand without workshopping the previous one or anticipating the next. You have to actively avoid the master craftsman’s impulse to map out the whole poem, since that would defeat the momentary experientiality of the thing. “There is no question of correcting one’s composition, beyond the time of composing the verse, which means that the time for premeditation is reduced to a minimum,” Jouet writes. “No manuscript version.” (As a rule, Jouet burns his drafts.)”