Monday, April 19, 2010

Poems with Fibonacci number patterns

In 21st century poetry, there are a variety of non-rhyming forms--and several of them have derived from the Fibonacci numbers. The Danish poet, Inger Christensen (1935-2009), wrote a book-length poem, alphabet (New Directions, 2000) in which the numbers of lines in stanzas followed the sequence of Fibonacci numbers.  "Fibonacci," shown below, by Judith Baumel is a shorter example of this form.
Introduced in 2006 by Gregory K Pincus on his GottaBook blogsite  and featured in the NY Times and a host of Internet sites is a 6-line poem-form called the FIB-- whose lines have the numbers of syllables specified by the first six non-zero Fibonacci numbers:  1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8.  Such a form emphasizes the "puzzle" aspect of writing poetry--as the writer tries one word after another in search not only of meaning but meaning that fits the form.  Here are two sample FIBS:

designed to keep women in place.    

fossil fuels—
we use resources
carelessly--what of tomorrow?
Judith Baumel teaches at Adelphi University; her poem "Fibonacci"--in which the subject matter aptly matches the form--is from The Weight of Numbers (Wesleyan University Press, 1988).  It also appears in Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics, (A K Peters, 2008).


     for Abraham Baumel

Call it windfall

finding your calculation

come, finally,
to the last decimal point of pi.

In the silence of January snow
a ladybug survives the frost
and appears on the window pane.

She drawls a tiny space.
Hesitant.  Reverses.  Forward,
like a random-number generator,
the walking computer frog
who entertains mathematicians.

Think of the complexity
of temperature, quantification
of that elusive quality “heat.”
Tonight, for instance,
your hands are colder than mine.
Someone could measure
more precisely than we
the nature of this relationship.

Learn the particular strength
of the Fibonacci series,
a balanced spiraling
outward of shapes,
those golden numbers
which describe dimensions
of sea shells, rams’ horns,
collections of petals
and generations of bees.
A formula to build
your house on,
the proportion most pleasing
to the human eye.   

*Fibonacci (c 1170 - c 1250) was an Italian mathematician whose popularization of a particular number sequence is the best known of his accomplisments. The Fibonacci sequence of numbers begins with 0 and 1 and each succeeding number is the sum of the two preceding; so we have 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, ... . A webpage maintained by Dr. Ron Knott lists a host of applications, including not only the original problem that Fibonacci investigated ( counting rabbits ) but also the occurrences of these numbers in plant growth--in patterns of petals and leaves.

One more fascinating Fibonacci item: poet and novelist Sherman Alexie has a clever Fibonacci number poem entitled "Requiem for a Pay Phone."


  1. Thanks for the Fib shout-out. I love mixing math and poetry, and I'm endlessly fascinated by all the variations folks come up with even just combining Fibonacci and poetry let alone all the other math influenced forms. Good times, indeed!

  2. Thanks for your comments--and for the considerable publicity your blog has attracted to "math-poetry." For additional ideas concerning math-influenced forms, take a look at the tetrahedral pantoum in my April 8 posting, "Braided lines form a pantoum," or follow the link in the April 9 posting about baseball to sample some square poems.

  3. Handful of Stars
    Fib- poetry

    a hand-
    full of stars,
    a palm of live wires,
    glowing red like an x-ray
    tiny fragments of light building energy
    nudging, crevasses between fingers particles free
    the night sky
    shooting in reverse
    to original position
    taking wishes of the night from lovers' lips,
    casting them back to a time before they fell in love.
    Fibonacci poem - doubled

  4. hi,
    Im am a french student and am making a school report in english about the golden number in poetry.
    I wanted to ask you if you knowed any others form than the fib and the fibonaccy sonnet (which is not exactly poetry) that used fibonaccy numbers, even unconciently (like the rondel or the triolet in french).

    1. A good place to look for more might be in work by the French group OULIPO -- especially in the writing of Paul Braffort.