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Feb. 14 2012

Univocals

By Judith Krummeck | Posted in Host Blogs | 16 Comments

By “univocal” I’m not referring to a singular song but to a form of writing that is constrained by using just a single vowel, like “No cool monsoons blow soft on Oxford dons” (credit to the 19th century poet, C.C Bombaugh).  The best known contemporary example is by the Canadian poet, Christian Bök, who has written an entire book called Eunoia (one of the shortest words to contain all the vowels), which uses just one vowel in each of its five chapters.  He spent seven years compiling the book, and read the dictionary five times (once for each vowel, I assume) looking for words that contained just a single vowel.  He then arranged the words into nouns, verbs and other parts of speech, and finally into groups of words.  Chapter A begins, “Awkward grammar appalls a craftsman”.

The reason I know all this (which I didn’t just two weeks ago) is because one of the courses I am taking this semester for my MFA in creative writing, is in Experimental Forms.  Often experimental writers regard the word as an end in itself and the meaning as incidental, and the idea reminded me of the composers of the 2nd Viennese School—Schönberg, Berg and Webern—writing tone rows that were an interesting exercise in experimentation with note patterns, with melody being incidental.  (Or so it seems to me.)

Well, we had an exercise in the class to experiment with univocals, and I decided to write a piece, which I called Arts Enter In On Us, taking an art form per paragraph (visual art, acting, dance, music, literature, etc.) and writing five sentences about each one, using the vowels sequentially.  It almost fried my brain.  Believe me, it’s more complicated than it seems!  Here is the music paragraph:

 As Ax taps an A-flat and plays a fast rat-a-tat, all “Ah!” and clap—what a blast! We feel the reverence.  Still, if I blink I miss it.  Bow slow rondos, Yo-Yo, don’t bow too gross!  Just strum—thrum thrum!

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Judith Krummeck

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Judith is WBJC's afternoon host. Her full bio can be read here.

16 Responses to Univocals

  • Diana Ross
    Diana Ross says:

    Sounds like a fun (and difficult) exercise!

    There’s a book by Georges Perec written in french entirely without the letter “e” and subsequently translated into English, also without using the letter “e”. What would that be called?

    • Judith Krummeck
      Judith Krummeck says:

      Yes, we learned about that too – it’s called A Void in English. “E” being the most used vowel in both French and English, of course!

      • Diana Ross
        Diana Ross says:

        I completely forgot to post the name of the book LOL! I was wondering what the technique of excluding a letter was called.

        • Judith Krummeck says:

          Oh, I’m not sure. Could it be a lipogram? Maybe there’s an erudite linguistic WBJC listener who could help us out!

  • Doug says:

    I nivir hird if thit!

    Wow – well done, Judith – I’m in awe, I wouldn’t even attempt it.

    • Judith Krummeck
      Judith Krummeck says:

      Thanks! I’ve been trying to think of univocal composers and there are precious few – Berkeley, Finzi, Falla, Meyerbeer, Weelkes, Weber, Webern. (I’m not counting single syllable composers like Bach or Haydn.) Then there’s Byrd, with no vowels!

  • Kati Harrison
    Kati Harrison says:

    Attempting to understand what people come up with in the English language can be flabbergasting and eunoiaing!

  • Kati Harrison
    Kati Harrison says:

    Judith, good job with the composers, by the by!

  • Doug says:

    Been thinking about this off and on over the past few days… I’m in the auto hobby and all I can think of is Volvo and Edsel! The other day, “How now, brown cow” popped into my head but I guess it doesn’t count as they’re all one syllybly.

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