A Curious Form Of Poetry: Univocalic Poems


Regular readers of Learn Fun Facts may already be familiar with lipograms. In today’s post, I’ll talk about another form of lipogrammatic constrained writing called univocalic.

French author Georges Perec published a 300-page lipogrammatic novel La disparition in 1969. The entire novel did not contain the letter “e”. It seemed that he was saving up all the letter “e’s” for his following work, Les revenentes (1972), wherein he used no vowel but the letter “e”.  This type of constrained writing is known as univocalic.

Univocalic writing is similar to lipogram since, in a lipogram, you omit one or more arbitrary letters in your composition. In univocalic writing, you only use one of the five vowels (A, E, I, O or U). So, it is harder to write a univocalic composition than a normal lipogram because you can only use one of the vowels in your writings.

The following are some good examples of univocalic poems:

Letter A

Anthony Etherin of micropoetry.com wrote this univocalic haiku titled “Crash”:

A parallax arcs
and an astral fracas starts:
Black stars crash and fall.

A poem written in the 19th century was about the Russo-Turkish War cited in The Wild Garland; or, Curiosities of Poetry, Selected by I.J. Reeve, edited by Isaac Jack Reeve (1865). The writer of this poem was unknown though the author credited Notes and Queries at the end:

Wars harm all ranks, all arts, all crafts appall:
At Mars’ harsh blast, arch, rampart, altar, fall!
Ah! hard as adamant, a braggart Czar
Arms vassal swarms, and fans a fatal war!
Rampant at that bad call, a Vandal band
Harass, and harm, and ransack Wallach-land.
A Tartar phalanx Balkan’s scarp hath past,
And Allah’s standard falls, alas ! at last.

Letter E

Newts by Phillip Woddell, cited in Roger Steven’s Is This Poetry? (2016):

They’ve keen eyes,
wee needle teeth,
Newts seek teeny prey.

The very few weeks
when fevered newts breed
they need the wet.

When we see newts,
even newt’s eggs,
let’s let them be.

“The Fall of Eve”, from The Wild Garland, author unknown:

Eve, Eden’s Empress, needs defended be;
The Serpent greets her when she seeks the tree.
Serene, she sees the speckled tempter creep;
Gentle he seems,—perversest schemer deep, —
Yet endless pretexts ever fresh prefers,
Perverts her senses, revels when she errs,
Sneers when she weeps, regrets, repents she fell;
Then, deep revenged, reseeks the nether hell!

Letter I

“The Approach of Evening”, from The Wild Garland, author unknown:

Idling, I sit in this mild twilight dim,
Whilst birds, in wild, swift vigils, circling skim.
Light winds in sighing sink, till, rising bright,
Night’s Virgin Pilgrim swims in vivid light!

“Haiku of Eyes” by Howard Bergenson, cited in Dave Morice’s Alphabet Avenue: Wordplay in the Fast Lane (1997):

In twilight this spring
Girls with miniskirts will swim
In string bikinis.

Letter O

The following poem from The Wild Garland is often attributed to C. C. Bombaugh. However, this poem was published way before Bombaugh’s book:

No monk too good to rob, or cog, or plot.
No fool so gross to bolt Scotch collops hot.
From Donjon tops no Oronoko rolls.
Logwood, not Lotos, floods Oporto’s bowls.
Troops of old tosspots oft, to sot, consort.
Box tops, not bottoms, school-boys flog for sport.
No cool monsoons blow soft on Oxford dons,
Orthodox, jog-trot, book-worm Solomons !
Bold Ostrogoths, of ghosts no horror show.
On London shop-fronts no hop-blossoms grow.
To crocks of gold no dodo looks for food.
On soft cloth footstools no old fox doth brood.
Long storm-tost sloops forlorn, work on to port.
Rooks do not roost on spoons, nor woodcocks snort,
Nor dog on snow-drop or on coltsfoot rolls,
Nor common frogs concoct long protocols.

George Marvill wrote the following poem as an entry for a competition in the New Stateman. In addition to being a univocalic poem, the poem is also a palindrome:

‘Too hot to hoot!’
‘Too hot to woo!’
‘Too wot?’
‘Too hot to hoot!’
‘To woo!’
‘Too wot?’
‘To hoot! Too hot to hoot!’

Ari Lieberman translated a part of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (specifically Act 5, Scene 5, lines 18-28) into a univocalic composition:

Tomorrow or tomorrow or tomorrow
Plods so slow, so low, from morn to morn,
To jot down lost words, most songs forlorn;
So old moons of sorrow glow for fools,
Food for worms. Go off, go off, short glow!
World of gloom prowls so, poor dolt
Who stomps or slogs so long from door to door,
Soon forgot, soon lost. Words of sorrow
Told to morons, room for howls or storms
So hollow.

Letter U

“The Same Subject, Continued”, from The Wild Garland, author unknown:

Dull humdrum murmurs lull, but hubbub stuns.
Lucullus snuffs up musk, mundungus shuns.
Puss purrs, buds burst, bucks butt, luck turns up trumps ;
But full cups, hurtful, spur up unjust thumps.

Paul Hellweg in “Mary Had A Univocalic Lamb”, Word Ways, Vol. 19, Iss. 3 (August 1986) wrote five univocalic versions of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” for each of the vowels. Here is what he wrote for the letter U:

Murl puts up th’ runt jumbuck,
Th’ jumbuck’ s fluff runs slush-full,
But just such suburbs Mud struts
Thus struts Murl’s jumbuck;
Th’ jumbuck hunts up Murl’s guru,
Th’ guru grunts much fuss;
But truth: Murl’s chums cut fun jumps,
Such luck th’ jumbuck turns up.

Related Posts

Six Mary Had A Little Lamb Lipograms

A Poem Which is Both a Lipogram and a Pangram




About Edmark M. Law

My name Edmark M. Law. I work as a freelance writer, mainly writing about science and mathematics. I am an ardent hobbyist. I like to read, solve puzzles, play chess, make origami and play basketball. In addition, I dabble in magic, particularly card magic and other sleight-of-hand type magic. I live in Hong Kong. I blog at learnfunfacts.com. You can find me on Twitter @EdmarkMLaw and Facebook. My email is learnfunfacts@gmail.com
This entry was posted in Language, Literature, Poetry and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to A Curious Form Of Poetry: Univocalic Poems

  1. Pingback: Learn Fun Facts’ 2017 Year In Review & 1st Year Blogiversary | Learn Fun Facts

  2. esdougan says:

    V interesting, results variable… Reminiscent of the arbitrary restrictions that the Oulipo put on themselves

    Liked by 1 person

  3. haleyk says:

    So cool! This is a great way to challenge oneself..


  4. Reblogged this on Travel.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting, Edmark. I’d never heard of univocalic compositions. The examples of poetry using only the vowel “o” had a weird and unpleasant effect on my vision.


  6. natuurfreak says:

    Very special and must be dificult making poëm on this way.


  7. Anand Bose says:

    This entirely new to me. I am soaked to wonder in its richness. Anand Bose from Kerala

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hannah says:

    I loved this post! So interesting I never knew about this form of poetry!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. mistermuse says:

    I’d try it (wink)
    If I didn’t think
    It might diminish
    In its finish.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. V.M.Sang says:

    Very clever. Don’t think I could do one, though.


  11. Guess I’ll have to try it. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Arbie says:

    Gosh these are interesting!!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. kiwinana says:

    Oh, I write Lipograms poems, but I have never tried writing univocalic poetry.
    Thanks for sharing this, I may have a go at writing one.
    Have a nice day.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. With each day, I find a new way of looking at things. It proves that man can make anything interesting just by using letters put in succession and make all things seem understandable.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Vandana says:

    I never knew of this form! Thanks for sharing👍

    Liked by 1 person

  16. craftysurf says:

    The funny thing is, in English, you can still get a lot of sound variation out of one vowel with all the weird combos 😝

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Jeff Rab says:

    When I am bored one day, I am going to try this…..but it will be a haiku!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Excellent! I think the letter O is my favourite!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Esther says:

    Oh wow I never knew about this. I like looking forward to the fats you bring here to the blog 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Similar to million monkeys typing at random IMHO

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Pingback: A Curious Form Of Poetry: Univocalic Poems — Learn Fun Facts – Suman Das Freelancer

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