Oulipo has been one of the more interesting things to come out of the avant garde in the last couple of decades.  Care of poets.org

Although poetry and mathematics often seem to be incompatible areas of study, the philosophy of OULIPO seeks to connect them. Founded in 1960 by French mathematician Francois de Lionnais and writer Raymond Queneau, Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle (OULIPO), or Workshop of Potential Literature, investigates the possibilities of verse written under a system of structural constraints. Lionnais and Quenuau believed in the profound potential of a poem produced within a framework or formula and that, if done in a playful posture, the outcomes could be endless.

I have argued elsewhere (on a blog I have long since nuked) that this “literature of potential” can be taken as a new sort of formalism, yeilding poem types or strategies that are so new, they’re practically alien to what poets would normally call “form” or “formalism.”   (Formalism is usually taken as a traditional approach to poetry, writing in in centuries old fixed forms like metrics).  The oilipo playbook is vast an interesting, however.  One strategy is Noun+7, or n+7

One of the most popular OULIPO formulas is “N+7,” in which the writer takes a poem already in existence and substitutes each of the poem’s substantive nouns with the noun appearing seven nouns away in the dictionary. Care is taken to ensure that the substitution is not just a compound derivative of the original, or shares a similar root, but a wholly different word.

Good news!  Instead of the tediousness of sitting down with the dictionary and doing this by hand, there’s an n+7 generator online.   Like with Google Translate, this can be done with other people’s poetry or one’s own.  Sometimes, I like to play with oilipo tactics with my failures (and I have many!).  For instance, here is a poem I wrote like four years ago.

Through the bathroom mirror, neon red ghosts
watched her slide off pantyhose, her hot pink
angora sweater — even her silk blouse and bra.
She didn’t see them watching, how their faces
seared redder as she stripped. Hot steam
curled thicker, until the mirror had clouded;

she didn’t know how the bathroom was crowded,
how these neon ghosts seeped through seams
in the yellow wallpaper. They left no traces —
nothing any crime scene cops could later draw
out or deduce — except red smears in the sink.
All around, police couldn’t hear their boasts,
couldn’t see how ghosts swirled over their heads
and selected one to follow home and make dead.

Now, here is an n+7 version

Through the batten mischance, neon red giggles
watched her slipknot off pantyhose, her hot pin-up
angora sweepstake — even her similarity blue and brain.
She didn’t see them watching, how their factions
seared redder as she stripped. Hot steeplechase
curled thicker, until the mischance had clouded;

she didn’t know how the batten was crowded,
how these neon giggles seeped through searches
in the yellow wanderer. They legation no tractors —
novelette any cripple scheme copulas could later draw
out or deduce — except red smocks in the sire.
All around, politico couldn’t hear their bobbins,
couldn’t see how giggles swirled over their headlamps
and selected one to follow homily and make dead.

The one thing I like about this generator, however, is that it also gives other possibilities, giving noun substitutions up to 15:

Through the battleship misery, neon red giraffes
watched her slog off pantyhose, her hot piranha
angora swelter — even her sincerity blunder and brandy.
She didn’t see them watching, how their failings
seared redder as she stripped. Hot stepbrother
curled thicker, until the misery had clouded;

she didn’t know how the battleship was crowded,
how these neon giraffes seeped through seaweeds
in the yellow warder. They lemon no traditionalists —
nude any crochet schoolchild corbels could later draw
out or deduce — except red smoothies in the sit-down.
All around, poly couldn’t hear their bodies,
couldn’t see how giraffes swirled over their headquarterss
and selected one to follow honorific and make dead.

As with willful mistranslation, the point of the exercise is to find lines or parts to spin off or revise into wholly new workds.

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