Fibonacci Poems Appear Online After Invitation Posted in Blog
By Motoko Rich
THE NEW YORK TIMES
But how about a
Rare, geeky form of poetry?
That’s exactly what happened after Gregory K. Pincus, a screenwriter and aspiring children’s book author in Los Angeles, wrote a post on his GottaBook blog (gottabook.blogspot.com) two weeks ago inviting readers to write “Fibs,” six-line poems that used a mathematical progression known as the Fibonacci sequence to dictate the number of syllables in each line.
Within a few days, Pincus, 41, had received about 30 responses, a large portion of them Fibonacci poems. Most of them were from friends or relatives or people who regularly read his blog, which focuses on children’s literature.
Then, last Friday, a subscriber to the popular Web site slashdot.org — which runs over a tagline that reads “News for nerds. Stuff that matters” — linked to Pincus’ original post, and suddenly, it seemed, Fibs were sprouting all over the Internet.
Pincus, who wrote in his original post that he conceived of the Fibonacci poems in part as a writing exercise, said in an interview that he figures more than 100 other Web sites have linked to his post and more than 1,000 Fibs have been written since the beginning of April, which just happens to be both National Poetry Month and Mathematics Awareness Month.
“It tickles me that it can spread like that,” said Pincus. “It’s such a wonderful thing.”
Readers of “The Da Vinci Code,” of course, may recognize the Fibonacci sequence as the key to one of the first clues left for the novel’s hero and heroine. It is also a staple of middle-school math classes. Though relatively rare in poetry, it shows up in the musical compositions of the early 20th-century composer Bela Bartok and the progressive metal band Tool, in the spiraling shape of the Nautilus shell and knitting patterns.
By and large, most of the people who have written Fibonacci poems over the past couple of weeks are not professional poets, but actors, comedians, video role-play enthusiasts, musicians, computer scientists, lawyers and schoolchildren. Casey Kelly Barton, a stay-at-home mother and home-schooler in Austin, Texas, who started a blog called Redneck Mother to chronicle her “dissatisfaction after Bush got re-elected,” used the Fib form to write a rant against the president.
Chat rooms linked to Web sites ranging from Actuarial Outpost, a forum for actuaries, to em411.com, a site for electronic musicians, have taken up Pincus’ challenge and generated strings of the whimsical poems. Even a Hungarian technology site has linked to the Fibonacci post.
The allure of the form is that it is simple, yet restricted. The number of syllables in each line must equal the sum of the syllables in the two previous lines. So, start with 0 and 1, add them together to get your next number, which is also 1, 2 comes next, then add 2 and 1 to get 3, and so on. Pincus structured the Fibs to top out at line six, with eight syllables.
For many people, writing one of the poems is a little like solving a puzzle. Suresh Venkatasubramanian, a 32-year-old computer science researcher at AT&T Labs-Research in Florham Park, N.J., said he was attracted to the Fibonacci poetry because it reminded him of “what a computer scientist would call the ‘resource constraints.”’ On his blog, Geomblog, Venkatasubramanian added two more lines to Pincus’ original prescription, while still keeping to the Fibonacci sequence:
Computer science (theory)
is my home and geometric algorithms are
sublime. Let P be a set of points in general position in the plane. Amen.
The last line, said Venkatasubramanian, is an inside joke in geometry.
Emily Galvin, a screenwriter and film production assistant who is writing a collection of poems and short plays in verse for Tupelo Press, has written one of her plays using the Fibonacci sequence. Instead of using the progression to dictate the number of syllables in a line, she let it regulate the number of words.
Galvin, who said an ex-boyfriend once sent her love notes composed in the Fibonacci sequence, was delighted to learn of Pincus’ success in spreading Fibs around the Internet. “How great that something mathematical could be bringing together all sorts of people who don’t write professionally and giving them a form,” she said.
More professional poets may be attracted to the form, said Annie Finch, a poet who teaches at the University of Southern Maine. “Poets are very, very hungry for constraint right now,” said 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.”