Friday, April 14, 2006

Fibonacci sequence is cool for short poems, but for really heavy poetic lifting, try the decimal expansion of pi

The Fibonacci sequence -- 0,1,1,2,3,5,8… (keep adding previous two numbers) -- is great if you’re a sunflower, or one of the many other plants that grow seeds or buds in that pattern. Or if you want to write the sort of short, numerically constrained poem that Gregory K. Pincus dubbed a “fib” on his blog GottaBook recently. What Pincus calls fibs are six-line poems in which the number of syllables in each line is determined by the successive Fibonacci numbers. The New York Times headed their article on the internet poetry explosion set off by Pincus with an example.
and rumor
But how about a
Rare, geeky form of poetry?
The Times quoted Annie Finch, a poet who teaches at the University of Southern Maine, on the appeal of formal constraints in poetry.
"Poets are very, very hungry for constraint right now," said Ms. Finch, who has written about formal poetry. "Poets are often poets because they love to play with words and love constraints that allow the self to step out of the picture a little bit. The form gives you something to dance with so it's not just you alone on the page."
Of course, there’s more to versification than short six-liners, just as there’s more to poetry than haiku. What if you want to do more? The Times story gave an example of an eight-line fib, but if you follow the Fibonacci sequence out very far, you’ll see that it quickly spirals out of control, at least for syllable-counting poets -- 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181...

For the long haul, you may prefer a sequence that’s more poetically robust -- that is, a sequence that can give you manageable numbers as far out as you could possibly write. For the really heavy poetic lifting, try the decimal expansion of pi -- 3.14159265358979323846264... For the poetically inclined, it evokes even more mathematical, scientific and artistic associations than the Fibonacci sequence. With Fibonacci numbers you can write something approximating a haiku. With pi, you could truly write an epic.

How would you translate pi into a rule for making a poem? On way would be to follow the syllable-count method of the fibs -- that is, give each line the number of syllables of the corresponding digit in the expansion of pi. Here’s my own lame attempt.
Start with three.
just simply let
syllables follow
the decimal expansion of pi.
Another way would be to let each word contain as many letters as the matching digit of pi (this seems to be more widespread). This old mnemonic for the decimal expansion of pi, quoted by J. J. O'Connor and E. F. Robertson at the end of their “History of Pi” is an example. (I’ve taken the liberty of laying it out in the form of a poem.)
How I want a drink,
alcoholic of course,
after the heavy lectures
involving quantum mechanics.
All of thy geometry, Herr Planck,
is fairly hard…
One blogger set out last year to get to 100 places in the decimal expansion and apparently made it to 82 before tiring of the game. Have you seen any good “pi poems”? What should they be called -- pips? Have you written one yourself? Leave a note on Comments.


Gregory K. said...

A few folks had left pi poems in my comments, and I'd tried them out too before. I called them Pi-ems and Pi-etry, personally. The wonderful thing about the Fibonacci poems, though, is that they often LOOK really wonderful... and people who play with variants (reversing, for instance) get poems that have a wonderful visual effect that compliments the words. All good fun.

Corwin said...

they're called pikus where I've seen them. Here's a page for it in a public forum:

This is mixed media, too! We're putting pictures where zeros appear.

Corwin said...

Oh, but umm... it a forum for a zombie themed online game, so there might be a lot of references you don't get. Should still be fun to read.


moonrat said...

awesome. i'm totally doing this ALL THE TIME.