Unfortunately, though, The Penguin Book of Oulipo is a frustrating business. There is no problem with the selections themselves: Philip Terry – himself a fine formalist poet and a distinguished translator of Oulipo – has put together as good a tasting menu as any. The 100 examples of Oulipian and relatedly formalist work here, including precedents, descendants, and a scattering of graphic pieces, maintain an almost uniform virtuosic ingenuity, and reward reading, even en masse.
In other senses, however, the editing feels lazy. Terry’s introduction (arranged alphabetically, of course) does almost everything except introduce Oulipo, while the entries (undated, and arranged according to a logic I have yet to discern) are annotated with Antarctic sparseness, and their formal constraints are noted only in an index. It made it all seem less an adventure than an obstacle course – and that, more than anything else, seems against the spirit of the Oulipo themselves.