Hundred Thousand Billion Poems
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.
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.
- Luce Libera, 12 268 millions de poèmes et quelques... De l’immoralité des droits moraux, Multitudes n°5, May 2001 (French)