Wild About Math! Making Math fun and accessible


Happy Pi Day: interview with pi poet

Happy Pi Day, everyone! Today I have a special treat. I had the opportunity to interview Pi poet, Mike Keith. Mike is into constrained writing and Pi, among other things. Mike recently published a book, Not A Wake, that demonstrates the constrained writing:

A collection of short stories, poetry, plays, puzzles, and other surprises, all constructed according to the rigid rules of "Pilish", that peculiar variant of English in which the number of letters in successive words is required to follow the digits of the number π = 3.14159265358979..., in this case for a truly grand total of 10,000 decimals. The perfect book for fans of the number Pi, constrained writing, wordplay, puzzles, or experimental prose and poetry.

Mike sent me a copy of "Not a Wake" to review. In case it's not obvious, the three words of the title of the book have 3, 1, and 4 letters. And, the pattern continues with the subtitle "A Dream Embodying Pi's Digits Fully for 10000 Decimals."

This is a fun book. The challenge in writing such a book is to have the writing be natural in the face of a pretty serious constraint! The book accomplishes that beautifully! Mike is clearly a poet as he is able to pluck the right words out of the ether to make the poetry flow. And, he does it for 10,000 words!

I asked Mike some questions about himself and his new book. Here are his responses:

1. Are you a Math geek?

Definitely. Since I started reading recreational mathematics books as a child I've always been fascinated by all aspects of mathematics, from deep theorems to numerical curiosities. For example, did you know that the 4th root of (97 + 9/22) is an approximation to pi that's accurate to 9 decimal places? [ Editor's note: Check out Mike's web-site: www.cadaeic.net if you have any doubt that he's a Math geek. ]

2. How many decimal places do you have pi memorized to?

250. Not that impressive, I know. Some day I want to get up to 768 places, because of the very special thing that happens at that place in the digits. [ Editor's note: See here to learn more about the "very special thing." ]

3. What inspired you to write Not a Wake?

About 15 years ago I wrote "Cadaeic Cadenza", a 3835-digit short story of the same form, where the word lengths follow the digits of pi. With "Not A Wake" I wanted to write something that was (a) longer, (b) more original (since a lot of the "Cadenza" is made up of Pilish "translations" of existing works of literature), and (c) better written. Whether I've succeeded (at least on item (c)) is up to the reader to decide.

4. Have you written other poetry or prose?

Yes, and almost all of it has been "constrained" in some way. You can find many examples on my web site, cadaeic.net.

5. How long did it take you to write the book?

About 6 months, working a reasonable number of hours each day.

6. Did you use a computer to check that each of your words has the right number of letters?

Absolutely! There's really no other choice if you're going to write more than a few paragraphs or two of Pilish, because it's SO easy to make a mistake. I wrote a program that starts with the same electronic file used to produce the book and checks it automatically.

7. Have you set a world record? Have the Guiness World Record folks contacted you?

As far as I know this is a world record in English (or any other language) for the length of a text written in Pilish. I hadn't thought about whether Guiness would be interested in this particular record, or not.

8. What's your next book?

I'm not sure, but most likely it will be a collection of constrained writings using constraints different from this one.

9. What other question(s) should I have asked you?

Q: What is "cadaeic", the word used in your "Cadaeic Cadenza" and also in the name of your web site?

A: It's a term I coined in the 90's meaning (as an adjective) "related to pi" or (as a noun) "a pi fanatic". If you replace each letter in "cadaeic" by its position in the alphabet you get 3141593, the correct value of pi rounded to 7 digits.

Comments (3) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Wow. I wonder if his next book will follow the same pattern, except using the first 10,000 hexadecimal “digits” for pi.

  2. Hi –

    This is Alex from the Pi Day Challenge – http://www.pidaychallenge.com.

    I like your blog… great domain!

    Wondering if you’re interested in doing a little piece on your blog on the Pi Day Challenge. We haven’t had any type of coverage really – through a blog or any traditional news sources… so I am just reaching out to people.

    There have been over 2500 people who have signed up on Facebook to take the Challenge, and visitors from over 100 countries around the World! It’s amazing how many people are excited about mathematics & logic!


  3. Sunday we published a new video about Pi to celebrate pi day.

Leave a comment