Not A Wake: A Dream Embodying π's Digits Fully For 10000 Decimals
by Michael Keith,
illustrated by Diana Keith
Not A Wake is the first book ever written completely in Pilish, that peculiar dialect of English in which the numbers of letters in successive words follow the digits of the number π (3.14159265358979323846...). Divided into ten sections of 1000 digits, each written in a different style, its words "spell out" the first 10,000 digits of the number.
Take a look at the first two lines of the book, the opening of the 1000-digit poem in section one:
3 1 4 1 5 9 2 6 5 3 5
Now I fall, a tired suburbian in liquid under the trees,
Drifting alongside forests simmering red in the twilight over Europe.
8 9 7 9 3 2 3 8 4 6
As you can see from the red numbers, the lengths of the words faithfully follow the digits of π. This continues in an unbroken stream to the end of the book, encompassing 10,000 digits in all (the last of which is a "7").
Not A Wake is an example of constrained writing, a literary technique in which a text is required to follow some sort of algorithmic rule, usually lexical in nature (related to the letters and words of the text). Well-known books of this kind include
- Georges Perec's La Disparition, which does not contain the letter E.
- Christian Bok's Eunoia, in which each of the five main sections is a univocalic in one of the five vowels.
- Walter Abish's Alphabetical Africa, in which the first letter of each word is constrained in a certain way.
in addition to the works of the literary group Oulipo, who write exclusively with constraints. As do all the works just listed, Not A Wake reveals (and revels in) the paradoxical nature of the constraint. On the one hand it is a difficult taskmaster, limiting (sometimes severely) what can be written or expressed. On the other hand it is liberating, often suggesting new ideas or ways of expressing things that would otherwise not occur to the writer. Sometimes we "go with the flow" of the constraint, resulting in surreal images such as
As an evening dissolves, undead humanity
Commences to float westward, televised to the world
from the poem in section one, or
Contributing green light, I picture Spring,
which looked through death:
a dog lying quietly under a strange tribunal.
from section five. Other times we attempt to tame the constraint, reaching for (though only occasionally attaining) a state of naturalness that hopes to deny the presence of the constraint. Such as in the opening paragraph of the third story in section eight:
I abandoned all religious practices when Frederick Fourteenth
climbed to the throne, as the anti-church king mostly rejected them.
Many spiritually thirsty men continued with sacraments, but my
fervor lived elsewhere.
The styles employed in the ten sections of the book are:
1 A free-verse poem.
2 Five short stories.
3 97 haiku on a wide variety of subjects.
4 Two intertwined poems which blend together as their narrators meet.
5 A surrealist poem in 14 stanzas.
6 A movie screenplay.
7 A dream about puzzles, containing two newspaper-quality crosswords with Pilish clues.
8 Three short stories.
9 Three poems and a stage play, each with an illustration that encodes some digits as well.
10 This one's a surprise!
Not A Wake can be purchased from Amazon.com by going here. It is available as a paperback and also as an ebook for the Kindle platforms (Kindle reader, Kindle for PC and Mac, and Kindle for iPad). If you would like an autographed copy of the paperback, email me.