Mathematical forms in poetry 1: the Fibonacci poem

The Fibonacci sequence crops up in many different contexts in both nature and mathematics. Starting with 0 and 1, each number in the sequence is the sum of the two preceding numbers, giving

0,   1,   1,   2,   3,   5,   8,   13,   21,   34, …

and so on. The sequence is named after the Italian mathematician Leonardo Pisano, whose nickname was Fibonacci. 

In his book Liber abaci, published in 1202, Pisano posed a hypothetical problem about breeding pairs of rabbits which has the Fibonacci sequence as its solution (in this case starting at 1). The sequence had, however, appeared centuries earlier in India in connection with studies of Sanskrit poetic metre. And, delightfully, it has inspired an experimental form in contemporary Western poetry –  the Fib poem, which has a structure based on the Fibonacci sequence. 

The Fib poem gained widespread popularity in 2006 following a blog post by Gregory Pincus that went, as we would say nowadays, viral. Pincus defined a Fib poem as ‘a six line, 20 syllable poem with a syllable count by line of 1/1/2/3/5/8 – the classic Fibonacci sequence.’ 

Here’s a little, off-the-cuff example of a Fib poem:

I
like
playing
with patterns
in crochet, music,
poetry and mathematics.

As a simple, fun and engaging interface between poetry and mathematics, Fib poems are a wonderful teaching tool. Part of their charm lies in their accessibility: the intrinsic pattern is easy to understand and, as you can see from my effort above, it doesn’t require much verbal dexterity to match words to the syllable count.

A browse around recent issues of the Fib Review, an online publication dedicated to Fib poetry, will provide many stunning illustrations of the form’s versatility.

The structure of a Fib poem need not be defined by the number of syllables per line. Variations include word count; letter count; space and character count; or even the number of lines per stanza. 

 The possibilities, like the sequence itself, are endless.

Marian’s book From Fibs to Fractals: exploring mathematical forms in poetry, is published by Beir Bua Press.

Further Reading: 

Birken, Marcia and Coon, Anne C. (2008) Discovering Patterns in Mathematics and Poetry, Amsterdam, Rodopi.

Clark, Deborah Haar (2007) 1,1,2,3,5,8, Fun… What’s a Fib? Math plus Poetry. The Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/68971/1-1-2-3-5-8-fun

Sarah Glaz (2016) Poems structured by integer sequences, Journal of Mathematics and the Arts, 10:1-4, 44-5.

May D. (2020) Poems Structured by Mathematics. In: Sriraman B. (eds) Handbook of the Mathematics of the Arts and Sciences. Springer, Cham. 

Posted on 20 August 2021. This is a summary of my former blog post on the subject.

1 thought on “Mathematical forms in poetry 1: the Fibonacci poem

  1. Pingback: What’s a Fib? | TheKittyCats

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