Breathtaking lines

French novelist Valery Larbaud dreamed of a poem composed solely with proper namesperhaps a harbinger for the work of François Le Lionnais and Raymond Queneau’s Oulipo (OUvroir de LIttérature POtentielle, or Potential Literature Workshop) movement. Queneau was the author of a truly unique book, since One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems is still virtual, the onus being on the reader to compose the verses. Based on a system of combinations, it features 10 sonnets with 14 lines on each page, each line with its own rhyme, allowing for all kinds of variations. In Massin’s brilliant design, each line is printed on an individual strip and is interchangeable with others, so that anyone who possesses this rare object can create their own anthology. One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems remains strictly illegible. Queneau calculated that it would take nearly 200 million years to make and read everything. An exercise in futility, for the ultimate aim is more about a literary device than poetry, truly a blank book in the literal and figurative sense of the term. The poet of The Blue Flowers listened to the fanciful muse who inspired him throughout his career. Queneau was famous for his humor, and he was probably doubled over laughing as he penned: “Munching on pretzels distracts many a symposium.”

Cent mille milliards de poèmes

Raymond Queneau. Gallimard, coll. Hors-série Beaux Livres.

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