Table of Forms—Lipogram

Mary Had a Lipogram
by A. Ross Eckler

mary had a little lamb,
its fleece was white as snow
and everywhere that mary went
the lamb was sure to go;
he followed her to school one day
that was against the rule
it made the children laugh and play
to see a lamb in school

mary had a little lamb
with fleece a pale white hue
and everywhere that mary went
the lamb kept her in view
to academe he went with her
illegal and quite rare
it made the children laugh and play
to view a lamb in there

polly owned one little sheep
its fleece shone white like snow
every region where polly went
the sheep did surely go
he followed her to school one time
which broke the rigid rule
the children frolicked in their room
to see the sheep in school

mary owned a little lamb
its fleece was pale as snow
and every place its mistress went
it certainly would go
it followed mary to class one day
it broke a rigid law
it made some students giggle aloud
a lamb in class all saw

mary had a pygmy lamb
his fleece was pale as snow
and every place where mary walked
her lamb did also go
he came inside her classroom once
which broke a rigid rule
how children all did laugh and play
on seeing a lamb in school

mary had a tiny lamb
its wool was pallid as snow
and any spot that mary did walk
this lamb would always go
this lamb did follow mary to school
although against a law
how girls and boys did laugh and play
that lamb in class all saw

A lipogram is a text that purposefully excludes a particular letter of the alphabet. The lipogram can be reapplied multiple times (exclude more than one letter) or to different units of language. When the lipogram technique is reapplied on a different scale to create a poem which purposefully excludes a certain word, you have a liponym. A poem deliberately excluding words a particular number of letters in length is a liponol.

The Lipogram is, according to Perec, "The oldest systematic artifice of western literature." The lipogram has a long history which is explicated in an essay by Perec, anthologized in the book Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature. In 1939, an American author named Ernest Vincent Wright published Gadsby: A Novel of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter “E”. In 1969, Perec completed Las Disparitions, a novel without the letter E. In 1994, Gilbert Adair translated this novel into English as A Void. The translation also does not contain the letter E. Think about that.

La Bamba (Newspoem 12 April 1998): an A-poem (transgram) with a counterpoint as a lipogram on A

Mayor Guiliani Outlaws Painting, Arrests Artists (Newspoem 23 March 2003): The title is a transgram on A, the poem is a lipogram on A

Into Tilting Ruins: a poem with two stanzas; one of them an I-poem and a lipogram on E, the other an E-poem and a lipogram on I

Nothing: a lipogram on (excluding) E

Disappearing Cities (Newspoem 20 June 1999): a lipogram on O (about those displaced from Kosovo)

Christmas: a liponym

Birthday 29 is a lipogram on O, is restricted to noun phrases, and is a number poem of 29 words

Vanity: a lipogram on E

A Kite: a progressive polygram poem starting with a five letter pool. In section 0, the first line is anagrammatic. The following lines are a polygram (multiple lipogram). In 1-4, wildcard letters are added to the original pool, resulting in homogrammatic transgram strings of five-letter words having four, three, two, and one letters in common. 5 is a polygram excluding the original letter pool. Starting with 6, the poem shifts from being a number poem in which every word is five letters in length to a liponol in which no word is five letters in length. In the first line, every word contains four letters from the original pool; in the second line, every word contains three letters from the original pool; and so on until the last line of the section which shares no letters with the original pool. Finally, the entire poem is a liponym, excluding the word that the entire poem consists of variations on.

Click here to read a poem written using a Boggle set—a poem excluding most of the alphabet

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