Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The magic of numbers and words

Who would have thought that you could learn about maths at a poetry reading? And what’s that got to do with rabbits anyway?

At a recent live literature event a poet friend, Trudi Petersen, read some new work she had written using a syllable count that follows the Fibonacci number sequence.

She’d tried writing haiku (those tiny, beautifully formed poems that usually follow a 5-7-5 syllable pattern) and found it didn’t suit her. So she worked with the Fibonacci series and she loved it. The poetic results were stunning. Trudi wrote one of these Fib poems for me, as it was my birthday, and that poem is below, so you can see how they work.

I love using form when I write poetry and I am especially fond of those with very short counts, such as haiku. Now I want to give this idea a try and see what I can do with it.

Many artists and architects have used this ‘Golden Ratio’ number sequence to create their work – Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa being one of the most famous examples.

Here’s a bit of an explanation on what it’s all about:

In mathematics the Fibonacci series are the numbers in the following integer sequence:

1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89… The next number is found by adding up the two numbers before it.

The sequence has been known in the East for thousands of years, but it was brought to Europe by  Leonardo Pisano Bogollo, who lived between 1170 and 1250 in Italy. Fibonacci was his nickname.

As well as being famous for the Fibonacci Sequence, he helped spread through Europe the use of Hindu-Arabic Numerals (our present number system 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9) to replace Roman Numerals.

Fibonacci numbers appear in nature often enough to show that they reflect some naturally occurring patterns. You can commonly spot these by studying the manner in which various plants grow.

Look at the array of seeds in the centre of a sunflower, for example,  and you'll notice what looks like spiral patterns curving left and right. Amazingly, if you count these spirals, your total will be a Fibonacci number. Divide the spirals into those pointed left and right and you'll get two consecutive Fibonacci numbers. You can decipher spiral patterns in pinecones, pineapples, cauliflower and a range of other plants that also reflect the Fibonacci sequence in this manner. ­

And the rabbits? Bogollo is said to have first understood the sequence when calculating the ideal expansion of pairs of rabbits.  

There’s loads of information online, and much for the more mathematically minded than I. These sites have been helpful:

And here’s Trudi’s Fibonacci poem for me:

A birthday fib for Jackie

A birthday
Fibonacci verse.
The form reminds me of your work,
Patterns of nature, reflections of humanity,
These are themes I hear often in your poetry.  Held in the balance and the branching,
Caught in the precision of a spoken word rhythm,
Dancing bright on an arc of thought,
The spiral of life
By a

Wow, thank you Trudi!

Poem ©2014Trudi Petersen