Constrained writing

The other day I hacked a little skit based on Austin’s mini-comic about writing with the Fibonacci sequence. So then I got to thinking about other arbitrary limits. What else could I do, just to get the brain wiggling? Still in math mode, my first thought was to do some writing based on pi. Each word would use a digit’s worth of letters. A bit random, but it could be fun.
As happens so often in Wikipedia, I found another cool thing—an article about piphilology, techniques and devices used to memorize pi. But even better…

That led me to the Cadaeic Cadenza. Mike Keith wrote the full text of the Cadaeic Cadenza with the restriction that each word would have as many letters as its corresponding digit of pi. It’s a full 4000 words, and along the way he mimics some other poems like The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Jabberwocky. The opening of the book borrows from The Raven. Keith’s rendition:

A Poem

A Raven

Midnights so dreary, tired and weary,
Silently pondering volumes extolling all by-now obsolete lore.
During my rather long nap – the weirdest tap!
An ominous vibrating sound disturbing my chamber’s antedoor.
“This”, I whispered quietly, “I ignore”.

Check out Mike Keith‘s page for more (like The Anagrammed Bible). And the Wikipedia entry for constrained writing has a bunch of other great stuff.

5 thoughts on “Constrained writing

  1. I had to write an entire short story for class without the letter “e.” We also had to write one in which the words were all only one syllable . You really test the limits of your vocabulary that way!

  2. Oh, sounds tough. One of my favorite projects from Modern Lit was doing a poetic imitation—basically re-writing a poem but trying to copy the patterns in rhyme, rhythm, meter, scansion and mood. I chose William Carlos Williams’ “The Botticellian Trees.”

  3. Read Hofstatder’s “Le Ton Beau Du Marot” (Amazon)– he talks a lot about similar things, and includes (among other things) a description of general relativity using only one-syllable words.

  4. Thanks for the tip, Mark. If I’m not mistaken, that’s the same guy who wrote G??del, Escher, Bach—which has been on my to-read list for centuries. Now I’ve got another.

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