Table of Forms—Number Poetry

A number poem is a poem in which the total number of letters, words, lines, and/or stanzas is decided beforehand.

Many conventional forms, such as the sestina, specify how many lines are in the poem, so number poetry is at its most exciting when the author is restricting the number of letters per word. In general, longer words have specific meanings, while shorter words (a, the, and) are necessary for proper syntax. It is difficult to say anything sensible without smaller words, but difficult to say anything meaningful without longer words.

Numbers can refer to all manner of things and ideas, so it is possible to have the numbers used in a poem's structure reflect its subject matter.

Here's an example by Willard R. Espy:


Now I sing a silly roundelay
Of radial roots, and utter, "Lackaday!
Euclidean results imperfect are, my boy...
Mnemonic arts employ!"

Unknown poet Dirk Stratton wrote a friend a series of 31 stanzas on postcards, and mailed one of them each day in July 1998. On each successive postcard, the number of lines is equal to the digit in the number pi corresponding to that day of the month.

Foolish: a serial poem in which each line has one word containing every number of letters from one through nine

[number poetry]: an explanation of letter-order Number Poetry written as a Number Poem

Poetry Reading: a collection of letter-order Number Poems written as a poetry reading

The Poor Get More Poor: a dialog between words of four letters or less and words of five letters or more

Garret Duet: a dialog between words of five letters or less and words of six letters or more

Before: a melting snowball in which the number of letters per lines decreases by one letter per line

Birthday 29 is a lipogram on O, is restricted to noun phrases, and has 29 words

Czech TV (Newspoem 18 January 2001): a seven-stanza poem applying the sequence 5-2-4-2-3-2-2 to words, sentences, letters, words, sentences, letters, and words respectively, removing the first number of the sequence each time. This is thought of as a dialog between lower numbers (2 representing mediocrity or suppressed thought) and higher numbers (5-3 representing critical thought), in which suppressed thought succeeds in suppressing critical thought.

Missed the Bus to Work Again: an acrostic serial number poem in which each line has one one-letter word, one two-letter, one three, four, five and one six-letter word

Manifesto: an experimental poetry manifesto written with ten ten-word sentences.

1999: Year of the Unknown (Newspoem Leap Day 2000): a calendelle (a form devised by Dirk Stratton)—a poem with twelve lines, corresponding to the sequence of months of the year, in which the lines corresponding to months of the year whose names rhyme must rhyme with each other (for example, three of the last four lines, corresponding to September, November, and December, must rhyme with each other).

Mayor Guiliani Outlaws Painting, Arrests Artists (Newspoem 23 March 1998): this lipogram has 24 words corresponding to the 24 artists who would be legally allowed to sell their art on the streets of New York, according to a new law.

Newspoem 2 March 1999: a distracted attempt to summarize the day's news using only words of four letters or fewer

Oh! John don't go to Kosovo (Newspoem 17 March 1999): a progressively (abecedarian) univocalic poem, in which each line is univocalic on the vowel that follows in the alphabet the vowel used in the previous line. This poem is also a six vowel serial poem using heavy stuttering. Furthermore it is also a number poem, comprising two stanzas each comprising six six-word lines.

A Kite: a progressive polygram poem starting with a five letter pool. In section 0, the first line is anagrammatic. The following lines are a polygram (multiple lipogram). In 1-4, wildcard letters are added to the original pool, resulting in homogrammatic transgram strings of five-letter words having four, three, two, and one letters in common. 5 is a polygram excluding the original letter pool. Starting with 6, the poem shifts from being a number poem in which every word is five letters in length to a liponol in which no word is five letters in length. In the first line, every word contains four letters from the original pool; in the second line, every word contains three letters from the original pool; and so on until the last line of the section which shares no letters with the original pool. Finally, the entire poem is a liponym, excluding the word that the entire poem consists of variations on.

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Dominique Fitzpatrick-O'Dinn
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