Telling Fibs

(or Finding Fibonacci through Apophenia)

I looked at the recent rash of Fibonacci sequence poems on Slashdot. After a very short time it became apparent how ill-suited the monotonically growing sequence is to syllable counts in a poem. Were I to write in ever-increasing circles, beginning in stark poetry and fading to unbroken expanses of prose, then the mathematics of Fibonacci would be ideal. I don't write like that. Nor does any poet who wants to communicate. There is no naturalness about this mash up of geometry and verse, no mystic meshing of platonic form with concrete lyric.

The limited form suggested by Gregory K. (1/1/2/3/5/8) has a certain elegance, but to begin with two single-syllable lines strikes me as artificial (even pretentious), and the final eight-syllable line lacks any conclusion; it leaves the thought dangling. Compare this with the cinquain (2/4/6/8/2), where the final two-syllable line completes the poem. I find the cinquain far more satisfying.

There are many increasing sequences of syllables that would do just as well as the Fibonacci sequence. It fits a pattern that we associate with stories. The initial short lines give little information, thereby asking a question and begging the listener to anticipate an explanation. The gradual lengthening of lines builds steadily to a climax (and hopefully a resolution). The fact that the first few terms of the Fibonacci sequence seem to fit this pattern is attributable to the law of small numbers. I view it in the same vein as the supposed match between Fibonacci and limericks.

Fibs do have a number of redeeming qualities: catchy name; easy structure to remember; high geek-factor; and they're an alternative to haiku. I guess that means they're destined to spread through the blogosphere.


The /. entries are more sentences than poems. They don't compress a variety of thought, emotion and observation but instead arrange a sentence in a poetic-appearing order.

I agree. They've trodden the geek haiku path. One poster (archeopterix) nailed it with:

A sentence
Into syllables
Does not a poem make - how pointless