Work on the second Sermon – now named The Games of Entropy – is progressing, slow but steady. Its subject is more challenging than that of the first one, where I was really just paraphrasing Carl Sagan. But I’ve become more proficient at the craft of assembling the lines into rhymes and the rhymes into stanzas, leaving me with more capacity for the task of abstracting science into poetic language. So I’m confident I’ll finish the second Sermon in spring 2015.
So confident, in fact, that I’m hoping to first perform it publically at the Less Wrong European Community Weekend 2015.
Assuming that works out, finishing a Sermon currently seems to take me about 18 months each. I might be quicker if I didn’t have a full-time job and a rich social life, but not a lot. Alternating rhyme quatrains in a strict (common) meter with correct grammar are just hard. Non-fictional content, where you can’t just change the story in order to make a rhyme fit, makes them much harder. A few stanzas have arrived in my head fully formed, but most of the time I go through dozens or hundreds of phrasings of a single thought until I find one that fulfills all my criteria to become a stanza. And even then, more often than not, it will still be replaced, or removed in the trimming. I estimate that overall, a thousand working hours go into each Sermon, and that feels fine.
No other poetry, anywhere in the English language, appears to have sustained a comparably strict form over the length of a (single) Sermon. I suspect the inherent difficulty of strict poetic form is the reason for that, rather than aesthetic dissatisfaction with it, because when it is achieved, it does flow particularly nicely. People would have written whole books this way if it wasn’t very hard. So I’m proud of my highly specific record – but if you have a counterexample, I’d love to hear about it!