- Paul Anthony Jones

# Pilish

__An astonishingly impressive bit of wordplay__ popped up on HH at the end of last week:

That’s opening and first verse of *Near A Raven*—a retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s 1845 poem *The Raven*—by the American mathematician Mike Keith. This being an expert bit of wordplay by an equally expert mathematician, the length of the all words, __in all eighteen verses__, of Keith’s version of the poem corresponds to the first 720 digits of pi.

Literature that follows the numerical order of pi like this is known as *Pilish*. As a style of constrained writing, it’s thought to have developed out of the mnemonic devices or *piphilology *used by mathematical students to help them to memorize as many digits of pi as possible, like this:

*How I want a drink—alcoholic of course—after the tough lectures involving quantum mechanics!*

...which takes in the first 14 decimal places pi, 3.14159265358979. And when that one fails, there’s always this example from a 1985 edition of Scientific American that can help you remember the first 20:

*How I wish I could enumerate pi easily, since all these bullshit mnemonics prevent recalling any of pi’s sequence more simply.*

From these relatively straightforward mnemonics developed an entirely new writing challenge that used the decimal places of pi as its constraint. Mike Keith’s *Near A Raven* set the Pilish record when it was published in 1995—but he’s since outdone even this extraordinary feat.

The following year, in 1996, Keith published *Cadaeic Cadenza*, a __short-story-cum-poetic-anthology__ that corresponded to the first 3,834 digits of pi and somehow managed to include Pilish versions of Lewis Carroll’s *Jabberwocky* and TS Eliot’s *Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock*. And then in 2010, he published *Not A Wake*—a full __10,000-word novel__ based on the first 10,000 decimal places of pi.

He’s a king—a whizz, unmatched, of Pilish poems and tales.