‘The Excellent Wessex Event’ is based on the 1967 Film ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and a Betjeman Heroine. Winner of the Flamingofeather Long Poem Prize, 2013, it was published in Long Poem Magazine, 2014, with an Apparatus Criticus. “… a breathtaking, single–vowelled tour de force: ‘She fells these three fellers, Ms B. Everdene. / Terence weds her, then flees; she tells Peter: “Wed me!” ’ ” — Greg Freeman in Write Out Loud “Timothy Adès’ ‘The Excellent Wessex Event’ uses the Oulipo univocal lipogram omitting a, i, o and u to produce a narrative poem in rhyming couplets drawing upon the film version of Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd. This one-hundred-line sequence comes with a set of multi–language footnotes all with the same impediment.” — David Caddy's blog, Tears in the Fence
Introduction to ‘The Excellent Wessex Event’This univocalic lipogram won an, um, won a Flamingo–Quill (that’s almost right) award, six months, no, many months ago. It honours two icons of British womanhood, drawing on Thomas Hardy’s book Far From A Madding Crowd, or strictly on a film of that book which was famous in my youth, and on a suburban mini–saga of sport and courtship by an illustrious Old Marlburian, which harks back to my boyhood, south of London. What is a lipogram? It’s a form of writing popular with a Gallic group known as Oulipo, that is to say ‘Writing Possibility Workshop’, although ‘lipo–’ may go back to Plato’s old word for ‘omit’ … not, I might add, to his similar word for ‘fat’. A lipogram is all about having a constraint, such as omitting a basic unit (or two) from a particular composition. If you look at this paragraph, you won’t find any omission of A, I, O or U. An accompanying apparatus criticus informs of variants found in manuscripts, or thought up by scholars, and will cast light on any occasional obscurity. I did classics as a schoolboy, and sat through any amount of this kind of thing. If at any point you can’t follow my non–local lingo, why not look for a translation on my www.
The Excellent Wessex Event (When She Wedded Me)(N.B. PRECEDENCE: THE PEER EXEMPTED) We exempt the respected Ned Wessex, the peer: He needn’t feel he’d be the reference here. Well, he weren’t yet preferred, when these verses were penned! Ex Egbert the Elder, three brethren descend. HERSELF MS B. EVERDENE, MS B. EVERDENE, Deep–zested, tweed–chested, the Western sweet–teen! Her best speed exceeded the fleet leveret; Her feet were the slenderest, tenderest yet. Wessex! Wells, Mells, the Cheverells, the Kennet, the Test; There’s Tess Debrett–Deference, there’s Jed the Repressed; The beech–trees’ green excellence shelters the sheep; Beetles nestle, well–fed; replete trenchermen sleep. Let the fevered seethe elsewhere. Remember the scene? She fells these three fellers, Ms B. Everdene. Terence weds her, then flees; she tells Peter: ‘Wed me!’ Peter’s pellet fells Tel; she weds Zebedee Tree. Let the reckless recede: Wessex needn’t be pestered. Well, her sheep swelled, blenched, sweltered; her bell–wethers festered; Her ewes needed helpmeets, the sweet shepherdess! Bergère légère, sévère détresse. They freed the pent breezes, they gentled her sheep, Re–fettled the helpless, defenceless Belle–Peep. They helped her mend fences, keep bees, sell her fleeces, Brew beers, wrestle steers, breed red setters, press cheeses. She entered her jennet, she swept three events: She wrecked, she sternwheelered the three–decker fence. When she screen–tested, Elstree’s behests were exceeded: ‘Three cheers!’ Terence yelled: yet she’ll never be needed. (When she entered the Beckmesser Best Verse Event, ‘We deem ye’re the best’ wheezed the letter they sent. ‘These verses were excellent — best ever seen: Yet we need seven fewer — ye’ve sent seventeen!’). She revered the Berserkers, kept her épées well flexed: She peppered the mêlée, mere nerds were de–sexed! When she vented her spleen, the events were extreme…! She fenced well; she effected the deeds we esteem. She led her eleven (three sevens less ten): We felt her svelte vehemence, we keen Wessex men. She served — the bets lengthened — she swept the next set: ‘Twelve–twelve: even stevens! They’ll strengthen the net.’ Deep red were the tresses her green eyes reflected; Red–eyed, tremble–cheeked the wet men she’d rejected. She jested, she bested me, 17–3! Strength, speed, perfect deftness, Ms Everdene B. MR EVERDENE (he’s her begetter: he engendered her.) Mr Everdene’s seedbeds: well–weeded, well–dressed! He’s served me the genever, fresh–peeled the zest. ‘Seven bells!’ bleeps the ether. The Beeb tells the News: Kew’s new helter–skelter. Pelé meets Henley crews. We’ve smelt, these few weeks, Mr Everdene’s herbs: We’ve spell–checked (he’s the expert!) Perec’s e–less French verbs. He’s helped her ‘self–reference,’ yet nevertheless Kept secret the preference she’ll never express. He ‘respects’ Bells Yew Green, he ‘prefers’ Peterlee, Where the tenement–dwellers resettled, felt free. ‘Remember’, he stressed, ‘the best verses extend, Yet resemble, the precedents better men penned.’ [Theme: ‘Greensleeves’] He’s the Verderers’ Verger, he re–elmed The Glebe, Re–nested the egret, re–crested the grebe. He re–elvered the Exe, when her nether emergence Went eel–less. ‘We need fresher, greener detergents!’ The week when dense kex–weed enfeebled the Trent, (Even newts were perplexed!) he’s the geezer they sent. He metered the elements, tested the presence, Tended reed–beds, dredged trenches, expelled the excrescence. He let eels beget elvers: they revelled, went legless! Wrens, tree–creepers, greylegs, he never left eggless. He preserved the West Erg, where the Ténéré tree Met her Meddler. Meseemed he’d preserve even Me. THE PLEDGE [Sennet.] The Evercreech Levée! Green–belted her dress; Sheer–selvedged, her neckleted red–freckledness. We went there; the fenderless Edsel relented; She seemed pre–selected, her cheeks smelled sweet–scented. Well–heeled Wessex vespers! The well–tempered keys! The nerveless resplendence! The strength next the knees! We’ll let Messrs Sleepeezee pre–test the bed, The pelmet, the tester, the sheets, WHEN WE WED! The deckle–edged letters, the speech, the set jest, The new, well–hedged nest–egg (she’s pledged me the nest!); The leek–green Welsh dresser, the cleverest shelves Where the bent Penney’s rejects re–centre themselves. The SwebCentre’s deep–freezer–chest sets the scene; Crested Berkertex bed–sheets, we’ll sleep strewn between. There’ll be Everest fenêtres: the bevel’s recessed: Le vent ne pénètre, when the lever’s depressed. HERE’S THE STEEPLE [Enter the celeste, etc. Sweet glees] Yestereven the Western defenders were here: St Keverne, St Erney, St Clether, St Cleer. We feel we’ve repented whenever we’ve erred; They’ll bless the deep bed, get the sentence deferred. Presents! Here’s The Red Desert, Steele, Sterne, Stephen Spender, Ted Dexter, Pete Seeger, The Creep, The Pretender. Let’s get the blend perfect! The Reverend, the bells! … Elder Dempster! Three Weeks! Bêches de Mer! The Seychelles! WE NEVER EXPECTED THE EVENT’S REPELLENT END… She SPEWED crème de menthe, MESSED her velveteen breeches, She DRENCHED her three nephews, prevented the speeches. Ms JEZEBEL Everdene’s never been wed: She’s rendered me REDELESS — the new ETHELRED! Yes, she wended, went west, she bereft me, defected, She schlepped, de–selected, she left me dejected, Yes, she expleted, reverted, depleted, DESERTED THE BED! She dwells where the Menderes enters the Med.
Translation: Copyright © Timothy Adès