Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Hundred Thousand Billion Poems

Raymond Queneau’s Hundred Thousand Billion Poems or One hundred million million poems (original French title: Cent mille milliards de poèmes), published in 1961, is a set of ten sonnets. They are printed on card with each line on a separated strip. As all ten sonnets have not just the same rhyme scheme but the same rhyme sounds, any lines from a sonnet can be combined with any from the nine others, so that there are 10 to the power of 14 poems. It would take some 200,000,000 years to read them all, even reading twenty-four hours a day. When Queneau ran into trouble while writing the work he solicited the help of mathematician Francois Le Lionnais, and in the process they initiated Oulipo.
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