Tuesday, 5 February 2008


I’ve just been looking again at Beverly Rowe’s website at http://www.bevrowe.info/. Beautifully organised (he’s a professional) it includes among other things sections devoted to his own poetry, and also his work on Queneau. Member of Oulipo and mainly known over here for his ‘Zazie dans le Metro’ this site features English versions of Queneau’s sonnets. Bev Rowe writes: ‘Queneau's Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes is derived from a set of ten basic sonnets. In his book, published in 1961, they are printed on card with each line on a separated strip, like a heads-bodies-and-legs book. All ten sonnets have the same rhyme scheme and employ the same rhyme sounds. As a result, any line from a sonnet can be combined with any from the other nine, giving 1014 (= 100,000,000,000,000) different poems. Working twenty-four hours a day, it would you take some 140,000,000 years to read them all. Queneau's writing in general does not leave the reader with a sense of narrative comfort; these sonnets are no exception. Since the randomization would destroy whatever narrative there is, this is no real problem. It also allows a translator some freedom but I have tried to stay close to the original.’

Rowe’s English versions of the basic sonnets are masterpieces of ingenuity, likewise the site overall. And not to forget another feature of the site, a list of three hundred museums in London with links including something called the Anaesthesia Heritage Centre. Maybe we’re all there already.

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