ABCs of Poetry: N is for the Necessity of N+7

Posted by on May 24, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Poetry: N is for the Necessity of N+7

“Agreed. Let’s start at ridiculous and move backwards.”

– Professor Jules Hilbert, Stranger than Fiction

My most recent motto as writer-poet-artist has been to not take myself too seriously, which has continued my exploration in alternative ways to play with words. I have found, more often than not, that playful creativity comes not from an open expanse of possibilities, but out of the potentiality that comes from constraint.

Poets have many tools in their toolbox, not the least of which are techniques spawned from the OuLiPo (ouvroir de littérature potentielle, or workshop for potential literature). The OuLiPo movement has given us many techniques and playful forms, including novels that omit a type of word or letter entirely, as a means for expanse. Often, constrained writing is a recommended antidote for writing/artistic blocks because it forces a writer-poet-artist out of their comfort zone. N+7 is likely the most well-known OuLiPo technique and one that I hold near and dear to my heart.

As the OuLiPo movement’s name suggests, when it comes to using N+7 in my poetry, I consider the outcome of the exercise to be a potential, instead of final, version of an idea, meaning, or thought. N+7 requests of its writer-poet-artist to take a literary (or not) text and replace each noun with the subsequent seventh noun in a dictionary or lexicon of the writer-poet-artist’s choosing. The charm of this technique is when the outcome is nonsense. It gives a fresh perspective on an established, concrete thought, which then allows the writer-poet-artist to rethink what they know.

For instance, take the title of this piece, “N is for the Necessity of N+7”, and run it through an auto-generator. When selecting the small dictionary option, the N+7 version of the title would be, “N is for the Nerve of N+7”. I think that’s quite fun, and a bit cheeky, when comparing the technique to the more traditional poetic forms. If I were to use the N+7 version of the title instead, how would that change the underlying theme of this piece? Hint: it’d probably end in a rant against conventional forms which I’ll spare you from, dear reader.

And, just as N+7 begs for fluidity in verse and prose, so does the general technique question its own form. Instead of every subsequent seventh noun, why not every fifth or eleventh or twenty-sixth? Why not, instead of nouns, verbs or adjectives? What’s different about the experience of using an auto-generator, an online dictionary, or a physical one?

In my graduate thesis, I employed the poetics of nonsense, no sense, and nuance, all of which are encapsulated in the the necessity of N+7. A fresh perspective on a meaning can open up a world of new thoughts, energy, and intrigue for a writer-poet-artist. So, I encourage you: go forth, and play! Or, said another way: go forth, and nag those napping narratives.

P.S. – For some giggles, check out these N+7s of popular texts:

The Book of Genesis

The U.S. Declaration of Independence


Roast chicken and sage and onion stuffing and gooseberry sauce

Jenn Storey is a confessional poet working on a fantasy novel while being generally, and genuinely, out of touch in the American Midwest. She holds a BA in Computing and Information Technology and an MFA in Creative Writing & Poetics. Her work is featured or forthcoming in Spry Literary Journal, Peach Fuzz Magazine, Poydras Review, Five:2:One Magazine, and elsewhere. She sometimes posts on Instagram @jenn_storey, is the co-founder of Recken Press, and believes in magic in the practical sense.