Queneau

In 1961, the great French literary trickster Raymond Queneau published Cent mille milliards de poèmes (which the math-ignorant anglo in me is pretty sure means One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems). Originally issued as a flipbook, but obviously destined to be read on our computer screens, the work consists of ten sonnets, composed of course of 14 lines in an alternating rhyme scheme, so: ababababccdeed. Queneau’s ten sonnets, however, each follow exactly the same rhyme scheme (for instance, gâteaux at the end of line two in poem four rhymes with escargots at the end of the same line in poem nine), thus allowing for the potential creation of 100 000 000 000 000 individual poems. The website of poet Bev Rowe hosts his snappy new translation of Queneau’s poems, as well as Queneau’s original text (effectively making this Deux cent mille milliards de poèmes), randomly generated for our reading pleasure. The site, like Queneau’s poems, embodies a simple idea, executed with grace but opening onto mindboggling permutations. Rowe presents us with a 14 X 10 grid that maps each randomized poem, tracking which line comes from which template. We click through asterisks to view annotations, scroll over the verse to change the language, view the introduction for more word and mouse-play, or simply allow the poetry engine to combine all these playful, accomplished lines: “since Elgin seems to think the nose de trop / that tinned corn beef we stored smells more like cheese.” Queneau — ever the poetmechanic — would have known the meeting of the digital and the literary could be just as productive as this. (Sean Rogers)

www.bevrowe.info/Poems/QueneauRandom.htm

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