Writing an Aleister Crowley lipogram by Michael Kriesel from issue 300.2


“Aleister Crowley Lipogram” is written in a form that excludes one or more letters of the alphabet. A few years ago, my friend Wisconsin poet Mark Zimmermann further refined the lipogram by developing first-person narratives using only the letters contained in a literary or historical character’s name.

I wrote this poem from May 26th to June 6th, 2014. The first week was spent assembling a word list. I printed the letters of Crowley’s name in alphabetical order across the top of a page, and then searched the dictionary for words consisting of only those letters. I did this an hour or two each morning.

I ended up with 500 words, three pages of handwritten columns, five columns per page. Next step was highlighting likely words (a, access, act, actor, air, aisle…). Of 183 highlighted words, I ended up using 65. Actual composition was June 2 – 6, again, an hour or two each morning. Writing this poem was a blast!

Even more than other forms, a lipogram meets the writer halfway in the writing. Phrases assemble themselves independent of author intent, like crystals forming in a supersaturated solution. The poem is part artifact, conveying far less of the poet’s personality than other forms. Picture an old pachinko machine—the dropping metal ball diverted by each set of pegs encountered on its trip from top to bottom.

Besides a certain inevitability of composition, the form’s narrow word choice parameters give you a relative handful of similar words. It’s a process of sonic distilling, resulting in the lipogram’s rich sounds.

Once you’ve plodded through the dictionary grunt work, the composition part of writing a lipogram is FUN…and results in a product that’s fun for the reader! For your first one, I’d suggest a subject you’re thoroughly familiar with—an author you’ve read every book by, or a favorite musician whose songs have been your soundtrack more than once.

Speaking of fun, a book-length collection of lipograms by Mark Zimmermann is due to be released soon from Pebblebrook Press, You can find out more at  http://www.stoneboatwi.com/index.htm

mikeK (1)

Winner of North American Review’s 2015 James Hearst Poetry Prize Award, and President of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, Michael Kriesel, 53, is a poet and reviewer whose work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly, Antioch Review, Crab Creek Review, Rattle, Small Press Review, Library Journal, Nimrod, North American Review, Rosebud, and The Progressive. His manuscript Forgiving the Grass was a finalist in the ABZ Press 2014 First Poetry Book Contest. He served on the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission 2006-2008 and was the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Conference Coordinator 2006-2012. He’s won the 2012 Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Triad Award, the 2011 Wisconsin People & Ideas Poetry Contest, the 2009 Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Muse Prize, and the 2004 Lorine Niedecker Poetry Prize from the Council for Wisconsin Writers. He was featured poet for the 2010 Great Lakes Writers Festival. He also judged the 2014 Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring Poetry Competition. Books include Chasing Saturday Night: Poems about Rural Wisconsin (Marsh River Editions), Whale of Stars (haiku) (Sunnyoutside), Moths Mail the House (Sunnyoutside), and Feeding My Heart to the Wind: Selected Short Poems (Sunnyoutside). He has a B.S. in Literature from the University of the State of New York, and was a print and broadcast journalist in the U.S. Navy 1980-1990. He’s currently a janitor at the rural elementary school he once attended.

Photo from: http://aleistercrowleyfoundation.net/