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Friday, April 6, 2012

The moment you've all been waiting for: Oulipian writing contest results

Posted by on 04.06.12 at 04:33 PM

Why show you this hooded merganser? Youll find out after the jump.
  • John James Audubon
  • Why show you this hooded merganser? You'll find out after the jump.
As part of Wordplay Week on the Bleader, we announced a contest based on an Oulipian-style exercise. If you've been paying attention like you should, you know that "oulipian" refers to the Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle ("workshop for potential literature"), a club founded in Paris in 1960 and dedicated to investigating language from a structuralist point of view. Members created texts according to conceits of their own devising: a novel without the letter "e"; a poem that's reconstituted by systematically substituting new nouns for the originals; a book of ten sonnets in which each line appears on a separate strip of paper, allowing—according to the book's title—for a "hundred thousand billion" possible poems.

Our version of an Oulipian conceit was to ask Reader staffers and readers to retell a classic joke their own ways. Here's the joke:

One day a duck walks into a bar, hops up on a stool, and asks the bartender, "Got any grapes?" The bartender says, "No," and the duck walks out. Next day the duck comes back, hops up on a stool and asks, "Got any grapes?" Again the bartender says, "No," and the duck leaves. Third day, the duck walks in and hops up on the stool, but before he can say anything the bartender yells, "No, I don't have any grapes—and if you ask me one more time I'm going to nail your beak to the bar!" The duck stares at him a minute, asks, "Got any nails?" The bartender replies, "No." The duck says, "Got any grapes?"

We got brilliant in-house responses from Steve Bogira, Mike Miner, and Sam Worley. Contest submissions ranged from the raunchy to the sly and (sort of) sweet. The winner, who will receive our sincere wishes for the best weekend ever, is . . .

Charlene Logan Burnett, who staked out the sly/sweet end of the spectrum with this retelling:

One day a duck walks into Finnigans. He has no money, but he is thirsting for a stout. It is dark inside the tavern. A three-point buck’s head hangs on the wall. A stuffed beaver is poised on a shelf. “You got my wife in here?” he asks, looking around. The bartender says, “No,” and the duck walks out.

The next day, the duck comes back. He is still thirsty. He goes into the kitchen. Bacon is sizzling on the grill. Chicken wings are frying in a vat. “You got my wife?” he asks. “No,” says the chef and the duck walks out.

On the third day, the duck goes back and looks in the storage room, but before he can say anything the owner yells, "Your wife ain’t here—and if you don’t knock it off, I’m frying you up and serving your skinny legs for lunch."

The duck stares at a case of Merganser Stout. “Mind if I rest for a moment, Sir?” he asks. “My wife is gone. I’m tired. I’m alone. I don’t know how I’ll continue on.”

The owner takes pity on the duck and leaves him to grieve. Once the storage door shuts, the duck pries the cap off a Merganser Stout. The label boasts a chestnut-crested female duck. He drinks the stout. And then another. He has never married, but if he were to, he might fall for such a pretty merganser like the one on the label.

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