Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Sonnet a Minute

A Sonnet a Minute

It seems strange to write or review a book called The Art of the Sonnet without mentioning Raymond Queneau, who, in addition to his other achievements, was the most prolific sonnet-writer ever (LRB, 24 June). The ten sonnets in his Cent mille milliards de poèmes all have the same rhyme scheme and scansion so that lines from any sonnet are interchangeable with the corresponding lines of any of the others. The pages of the Gallimard edition are cut between the lines so that they can be moved to make any of the 1014 different combinations. Queneau calculated that at a rate of a sonnet a minute (45 seconds to read the sonnet and 15 seconds to move the lines) all day every day, it would take 190,258,751 years (more or less) to read them all.

Mark Etherton
London W2

-- Letter to the Editor, London Review of Books, 8 July 2010

Speaking of the LRB, here's a stanza from one of two poems by John Ashbery in the issue referenced above:

Would I lie to you? I don’t know what to say to you,
and the season is coming into season just now
with long-awaited words from back when we were
friends and still are, of course, but the tides
pursue their course each day. Perturbing elements
listen in the wings, which are coming apart at the seams.
Is it all doggerel and folderol? A cracked knowledge?
Monkey journalism?

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