What is the Fib?
The Fib is a form of poetry built upon the Fibonacci sequence, an endlessly expanding athematic pattern in which the next number in sequence is the sum of the preceding two.
While many forms of poetry have long histories, poetry continues to evolved and new forms are expressed all the time. This is the case with the Fib, first formalised by Gregory K. Pincus.
The idea of using the Fibonacci sequence to form a poem goes back a little further, however. The concept is referenced by John Frederick Nims in his book Western Words, written in 1974. In the 1981 collection of poetry by Inger Christensen, Alfabet, the Fibonacci sequence is used, along with the alphabet, to develop the collection. The first poem, ‘A,’ features one line, while the final letter, ‘N,’ has over 600 lines. Also in 1981, Ron Silliman published a major work, Tjanting, in which each of the nineteen paragraphs uses the Fibonacci sequence to dictate the number of lines it should use. Silliman uses the sequence until the final paragraph reaches a jaw-dropping 4181 lines.
More shockingly, Leonardo Pisano, the scholar who discovered the sequence, claimed to have noted instances of it in Sanskrit poetry dating back to the 12th Century.
The Fib itself, as coined by Pincus, was inspired by Haiku. In particular, the practice of writing a haiku every morning as a warm-up exercise, mentioned by poet-novelist Ron Koertge during the 2005 SCBWI-LA Writer’s Day which Pincus attended. Pincus, however, wanted a form that required a greater degree of precision. This lead to the combination of maths and poetry, posted to his blog on April 1st 2006.
Since then, the form has taken off thanks to its simplicity, mostly through internet communities and a dedicated journal celebrating the Fib.
Tony Leuzzi has taken the form further, dividing the poem into three stanzas and ending on a 13-syllable line, repeating the pattern within each stanza, totalling to 99 syllables.
The Fib begins with a moment of silence. Mathematically this is considered significant, representing the 0 at the beginning of the sequence. The first written line uses 1 syllable. Each following line then consists of the total number syllables from the previous two lines. Using this sequence, the second line has 1 syllable (0+1), the third line has 2 syllables (1+1), the fourth line has 3 syllables (1+2), the fifth line has 5 syllables (2+3) and the sixth line has 8 syllables (3+5).
Theoretically the increase in syllables could continue indefinitely, as per the Fibonacci Sequence, though typically the Fib ends upon reaching 8.
As a relatively modern form of poetry, there are no parameters regarding subject matter or imagery. Since its inception, the form has been used to tackle all manner of subjects, though a meta-motif does reoccur: poems about the mathematical origins of the poem.
As its origins lie as a writing exercise, it is easy to dismiss the Fib as trivial, however as poets continue to crave new confines to inspire them, the Fib remains important as an example of a modern form.
Within contemporary poetry, there is a growing school of Neo-Formalism—poets who rely on form. In many ways, the movement is similar to Oulipo, the French response to Surrealism. While the Surrealists claimed to be working without rules, the Oulipists claimed Surrealism was instead adherence to rules the artist didn’t understand. In response, the Oulipo movement developed a number of constrained writing techniques, under the philosophy that limits force the artist to dive deeper within themselves.
By comparison, as many current poets work to make poetry accessible, the Neo-Formalists instead work to make poetry “good,” though the Fib is perhaps an instance where both parties can come together.
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© 2019 Connor Sansby
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Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.