Good morning/afternoon/evening poets. My name is Tony Maude and it is my pleasure to once again welcome you to Form for All.
By now I expect that you’ll have noticed the word Mathematical in the title of this post and some of you will likely have broken out in a cold sweat. Fear not, brave poets. While there will be some Math(s) in the post, to rise to today’s poetry challenge you really don’t need to know any Math(s) at all … smiles.
The idea of using a mathematical series as the basis for poetry forms seems to be a fairly recent development. The way the idea works is simple; you take a mathematical series and use each successive number in the series to determine the length of each successive line in your poem, usually counting either syllables or words. The most popularly used series is the Fibonacci series – we’ll come to that later – but there are others that could also be used.
One, two, buckle my shoe …
The simplest mathematical series is the first one that each of us learned, usually quite early in our childhood, when we learned to count. That’s right – the sequence 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 etc is a mathematical series, with each member of the series being greater than its predecessor by 1. This series can, of course, be used as the basis for a poetry form with each line being one syllable or word longer than the one before it … see, I told you that you didn’t need to know any Math(s) … smiles.
We might not be mathematicians, but we are poets, aren’t we? Of course we are, and that means that we are interested in things like rhyme, rhythm and meter. Last week, Gay reminded us about metrical feet … iambs, trochees, anapests, dactyls etc … and it seems to me that, rather than simply counting words and/or syllables, we might try to write our lines with the appropriate number of metrical feet instead. (Having laid that challenge out, I now feel honour-bound to try it myself … gulps.)
The Fibonacci Series
In mathematics the Fibonacci series are the numbers in the following integer sequence: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 etc. Each number in the sequence is the sum of the 2 numbers that precede it (2 = 1 + 1; 3 = 2 + 1). Apparently Fibonacci came up with his sequence while thinking about breeding rabbits – as you do – but it is found throughout nature. (More information about the prevalence of the Fibonacci series in nature, as well as the Golden Number and the Golden Section that are derived from the Fibonacci series can be found here.)
For our purposes we can ignore the first term in the series – a line containing 0 words isn’t going to be all that interesting … smiles – so the first two lines of a Fibonacci poem contain 1 syllable or word, the third line has 2 words/syllables, then 3, 5, 8, 13 … and most people stop there, especially if they are counting words. As with the counting sequence above, it seems to me that, as poets, we might want to count metrical feet, rather than words or syllables, when we write our own poems based on this series.
Pascal’s Triangle, Triangular Numbers and The Powers of 2
Blaise Pascal (19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662)
French mathematician, inventor, physicist and philosopher, Blaise Pascal was a truly remarkable man who achieved more in his 39 years of life than most of us can even dream about. Some of us will know his name because Pascals are the official IUPAC unit of pressure.
More of us will know about Pascal’s Wager – if a man gambles that God exists and lives his life accordingly, only to find that there is no God, then he has lost nothing. Conversely, if he gambles that there is no God, lives accordingly and then finds that God does exist, he has lost everything.
I doubt that few, if any, of us have not come across Pascal’s Triangle at some point in our lives. For those who have forgotten it, here it is in part:
Image via Maths is Fun
I’d like to draw your attention to the dark blue line of numbers, labelled Triangular Numbers in the picture above, because it seems to me that this series could also form the basis for a poetry form with 1, 3, 6, 10, 15 etc words/syllables/metrical feet in successive lines. I’ve not yet come across any examples of poems written to this form; this is your chance to change that … smiles.
Finally … “At last,” you say … if you add up the numbers in each horizontal row of Pascal’s Triangle, you will find that the sum of each line is twice that of the line before. To save you the bother let me show you that:
Image via Maths is Fun
The mathematicians amongst us will recognise the sequence 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 etc as the powers of 2 – and the computer scientists should recognise it too … smiles. I believe that we could use this sequence to form the basis for a poetic form with 1, 2, 4, 8 etc syllables/words/metrical feet in successive lines. (I think 16 words or metrical feet in a line might be a stretch; 32 syllables might be too … smiles.) Again, I haven’t found any examples of this yet; maybe yours could be the first!
I hope I’ve managed to convince you that the various mathematical series presented here – the counting series, Fibonacci numbers, triangular numbers and power series – offer great potential as the basis for poetry forms; I’ll be really happy if I’ve managed to persuade you to try writing a poem using one of the series as the basis for its form.
As you write, don’t forget all the other tools in your poet’s toolbox: rhythm, end rhyme, internal rhyme, enjambment etc. Also, if you are writing by counting syllables, try to end each line with a strong word (a noun or a verb, perhaps an adjective, but not definite or indefinite articles, conjunctions etc). It’s probably better not to divide words across lines to meet the syllable count either – unless it’s done for deliberate effect.
You might want to try writing a multiple stanza poem using your chosen series, or perhaps you could write the second (fourth, sixth … is that a bit too ambitious?) stanza as a mirror of the first (third, fifth …) by working backwards through the series of numbers you are using. Or maybe you could …
there are almost limitless possibilities.
So What Now?
• Write your poem and post it to your blog. You might want to include a note to let readers know which mathematical series you’ve used – and to point people to the dVerse Poets’ Pub … smiles.
• Add a link to your poem via the ‘Mr Linky’ below.
• This opens a new screen where you’ll enter your information, and where you also choose links to read. Once you have pasted your poem’s blog URL and entered your name, click Submit. Don’t worry if you don’t see your name right away.
• Read and comment on other people’s work to let them know it’s being read.
• Share your work and that of your fellow poets via your favourite social media platforms.
• Above all – have fun!
PS: You can write and link more than one poem if you wish. It’s only on Open Link Night that we insist on 1 link per person.