Raymond Queneau. Cent mille milliards de poèmes. Gallimard, 1961

“The concrete expression of graphic variation’s potential for poetic evocation reaches its height in the collaboration between graphic artist Massin and poet Raymond Queneau. Cent mille milliards de poèmes (1961) is a work of “combinatorial poetry”, a vast poetic undertaking consisting of ten sonnets cut horizontally, line by line, enabling the reader to recompose them at will into a hundred thousand billion poems, which is 10 (the original number of poems) to the power of 14 (the number of lines in a sonnet) – an exercise in style in the manner of OuLiPo which has also been tried by others, such as George Perec. The idea underlying the OuLiPo movement (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle), founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and the mathematician François Le Lionnais, was to invent stylistic and rethorical exercises and to experiment with literary constrains (such as working with a limited number of letters or applying mathematical formulae to the writing of poems).” 

 

Laetitia Wolff. Massin. London: Phaidon, 2007 (p. 128)

“The codex can be varied by changing access to the information in the sequence of pages by either cutting, drilling, or perforating the page, or through the use of materials of varying opacities. Possibly the most renown cut book is a literary one, Raymond Queneau's Cent mille milliards de poèmes (A hundred million poems, Gallimard, 1961 -designed by Robert Massin). Here the normative literary page has been sliced between every line so that each can be peeled back independently through the full depth of the book, making a different poem with each combination.”

Johanna Drucker. The Century of artists' books. 2nd ed. New York: Granary Books, 2004 (p. 131)

“On s’en doute, cette enterprise (à laquelle Queneau tenait tant, pour ce livre inspiré, selon lui, d’un livre pour enfants Têtes folles, paru avant la guerre et aux figures interchangeables) nous a donné pas mal de souci. La réussite reposait d’ailleurs bien plus sur la solution d’un problème technique que sur la présentation du livre, au demeurant volontairement traditionnelle. Or c’est le relieur, Engel, qui trouva la solution en fabriquant une sorte de gros peigne en cuivre, dont les “dents” correspondaient aux espaces ménagés entre les languettes, lesquelles, pour être manipulées aisément, ne devaient pas se toucher.”

Massin. Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre typographique de Massin, 2: 1958-1979. Chartres: Ville de Chartres, 1999 (p. 44)