An inspiration for the Oulipo literary movement, “A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems,” written by Raymond Queneau, is a collection of ten, fourteen-line sonnets, published in 1961, and believed to have been inspired by a children’s game known as Heads, Bodies, Legs, whose central theme of segment substitution is synonymous with Queneau’s work, inducing the “players” into forming personalized constructions of their own intuition. The interchangeable lines of poetry force the reader to become the “poet,” perpetually defining and redefining themselves as the speaker of seemingly endless individualized motifs for seemingly infinite compositional potentialities. As one progresses into the swappable design of Queneau’s work, the physical depth of its surfaces, as well as the developing strains of poems, it becomes increasingly chaotic, yet thrilling. The lines of each sonnet, although maintained by a ubiquitous and fluid rhyme scheme that allows for universal application of Queneau’s mechanism, are disjointed in their context, each appearing as a simple and brief observation, or a vague and incomplete inference to some unknown notion. The themes of any completed sonnet, if one exists, is tremendously convoluted, growing more so as the reader mutates each modification. One must discover and create a meaning alone, aided only by Queneau’s original words. The piece, therefore, becomes a narrative experiment following no hypothesis or motive, resulting in no single, concrete result—a game of interchangeable puzzle pieces that depict a fresh and unique portrait every time, revealing one meager corner of an image that requires more than 2.5 million lifetimes to unveil.
– Matthew Plaia