City of Potential Women


Raymond Queneau

In 1961, Queneau published the first Oulipian work of combinatorial poetry, One Hundred Thousand Billion Sonnets. Queneau composed ten sonnets with identical rhyme schemes such that each line of a given sonnet could be swapped with its corresponding line from one of the nine others. The published book allows the reader to generate new sonnets from the ten originals by bending back any of the strips that are cut out for each line. Consequently, the original ten sonnets, each fourteen lines long, can produce a total of one hundred thousand billion potential sonnets (1014), enough for more than 190 million years of round-the-clock reading.

Christine de Pizan

Born in 1364, married at age fifteen, and widowed seven years later with three children to support, Christine de Pizan became possibly the first woman in European history to make her living as a writer. Her allegorical book La Cité des Dames (City of Ladies) famously defended women against rampant misogyny by building an imaginary city of famous women throughout history. As she praises each woman as a building block in her allegory, she builds up all women as valuable contributors to society.

City of Potential Women

Our project includes 23 sonnets, each inspired by a different famous woman. The sonnet project of Queneau thus meets the inspirational project of Christine de Pizan to generate a city of potential women made from combinations of the 23 originals. In total, there are 11,592,840,000,000,000,000 potential sonnets to celebrate the infinite potential of women.


BYU Honors 290 Fall 2021: