You! I have a nerdy rejigging of poetry every man ought consider indulging!
It’s called Pilish, a form of constricted writing built around the infinitely unfolding digits of everyone’s favorite irrational number, pi. And for several years running, word/math nerds have made it the official art form of Pi Day (3/14). Now it’s your turn to join them!
The rules are deceptively simple. Just as a sonnet, limerick, or haiku is governed by mathematical restrictions of syllable length, Pilish poems—or “piems,” as practitioners call them—take their shape from 3.14159… (etc.). Here’s the only rule: In Pilish, each word’s length must match the corresponding number in the sequence of digits of pi. (In other words, the first word in your piem must be three letters long, the second word must be one, the third word four, and so on into infinity.)
If you’re wondering what Pilish prose might look like, take a closer look at the first paragraph of this story. I wrote it in Pilish up to the 13th digit (3.141592653589):
You (3)! I(1) have(4) a(1) nerdy(5) rejigging(9) of(2) poetry(6) every(5) man(3) ought(5) consider(8) indulging (9)!
Not so bad, eh? While the comic strictness of Pilish does cause you to make some questionable word choices (running the risk, as I did, of sounding like a Victorian sea captain writing a letter to his betrothed), the trained hand can work poetic wonders. Consider this rhyming Pilish poem by Joseph Shipley from the 1960 book Playing With Words:
But a time I spent wandering in gloomy night;
Yon tower, tinkling chimewise, loftily opportune.
Out, up, and together came sudden to Sunday rite,
The one solemnly off to correct plenilune.
Or marvel at the work of Michael Keith, a mathematician and fan of constricted writing, whose novel Not A Wake reads in perfect Pilish up to the 10,000th digit of pi. (Opening lines: “Now I fall, a tired suburban in liquid under the trees, Drifting alongside forests simmering red in the twilight over Europe.”)
We invite you, dear reader, to join in this emerging movement of alphanumeric nerdery, and write a piem of your own. To get you started, here are a few tips from Pilish prodigy Michael Keith, a list of the first million digits of pi (child’s play!), and a neat web tool that will check your text to make sure it is all in proper Pilish. Good luck—or, as we say in Pilish:
You I wish a grand numerical-to-poetic quest!
Of course, if pi is too persnickety for you, St. Patrick’s Day is only three days after Pi Day. It couldn’t hurt to brush up on your bawdy limericks either! Cheers.