Philip Terry

Philip Terry is the editor of the Penguin Book of Oulipo.

Diary: Scratched on a Stone

Philip Terry, 27 January 2022

Taking a leap in the dark – and is this not what the bounding horses lining the ceiling of Lascaux’s axial gallery ask us to do? – Jean-Luc Champerret proposes that the grids frequently found on the walls of the cave act as frameworks for the insertion of signs. Just as the signs for mountain and journey, placed in conjunction, acquire meanings, so a grid filled with signs and scratched on a stone might carry a message. When the grid is filled with signs representing the forest and signs for fire, for example, it might be a warning that the forest will burn. But Champerret goes further, proposing that although the grids may originally have been used for practical purposes, they evolved to form the basis of the first written poetry. This is an astonishing proposition. Just as Wittgenstein argues that one does not learn a game by reading a book of rules but by playing it, he seems to have believed that practice would prove or disprove the validity of his idea, and so he began to write poetry using these signs and grids.


Philip Terry, 6 May 2021

It must have been​ some time after we left Belfast in 1972 that my father first talked to me about Seamus Heaney. Heaney had been a student in English at Queen’s, Belfast, where my father, Arthur Terry, taught Spanish. And they had both been members of the Group, meeting regularly to discuss one another’s poems and translations. Heaney brought his first poems along, and my father...

Poem: ‘Inferno: Canto I’

Philip Terry, 3 April 2014

Halfway through a bad trip I found myself in this stinking car park, Underground, miles from Amarillo.

Students in thongs stood there, Eating junk food from skips,         flagmen spewing E’s,

Their breath of fetid Myrrh and ratsbane,       doners

And condemned chicken shin...

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