Hundred Thousand Billion Poems

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Raymond Queneau’s A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems or One hundred million million poems (original French title: Cent mille milliards de poèmes), published in 1961 (see 1961 in poetry), is a set of ten sonnets. They are printed on card with each line on a separated strip, like a heads-bodies-and-legs book, a type of children's book with which Queneau was familiar. 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 1014 (= 100,000,000,000,000) different 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 poem(s), he solicited the help of mathematician Francois Le Lionnais, and in the process they initiated Oulipo.[1]

Two full translations into English have been published, those by John Crombie and Stanley Chapman. There is also a full translation on the internet by Beverley Charles Rowe that uses the same rhyme sounds.

In 1984 Edition Zweitausendeins in Frankfurt a.M. published a German translation by Ludwig Harig.

In 1997, a French court decision outlawed the publication of the original poem on the Internet, citing the Queneau estate and Gallimard publishing house's exclusive moral right.[2]

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