This generative poem produces more sestinas than the known universe. To be precise, it can produce 910,251,623,407,960,787,539,543,324,904,089,233, 758,905,973,536,329,779,381,000,049,443,843,029,464,779,513,168,359,606, 194,209,951,426,108,247,244,800,000,000,000,000,000 possible variations (as calculated by Waber). It’s a heck of a lot more than Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes (100,000,000,000,000 poems), which would require more time to read than is possible in a lifetime. After a certain point, one would have to wonder what is the point of reading a poem that is impossible to read fully? Perhaps that is not the point.
Perhaps one never reaches all the possible combinations of possibilities in a situation or relationship, but patterns emerge, and one gets a sense of what is going on. The sestina is a poetic form that is built upon repetition: a set of words that are going to repeat themselves in a very meticulous pattern which can produce a sense of obsession or claustrophobia, produced by being in a space where there is little change, even in a one as varied as Waber’s generative poem.
He was kind enough to send me a sample of 50 sestinas generated from this Perl script. I ran the texts through Wordle to produce a word cloud with the 50 most common words, which yielded the following results.
The largest letters are the ones at the end of the line, and are repeated most in the poem. Between them and the other words, we can get a sense of what these sestinas are about.
Or we can just enjoy them conceptually for what they are, especially Waber’s essay.