Sunday, April 20, 2014

Remembering Nina Cassian

Exiled Romanian poet Nina Cassian (1924-2014) died last week in Manhattan.  Cassian was an outspoken poet whom I admired for her political views; she also was connected to mathematics -- in her subject matter and her friends.  (See, for example, this posting from January 31, 2011.)

       Equality     by Nina Cassian

       If I dress up like a peacock,
       you dress like a kangaroo.
       If I make myself into a triangle,
       you acquire the shape of an egg.
       If I were to climb on water,
       you'd climb on mirrors.

       All our gestures
       Belong to the solar system.

"Equality" is in Cheerleaders for a Funeral (Forrest Books, 1992), translated by the author and Brenda Walker.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Poetry of Romania - Nora School, Apr 24

     During several summers teaching conversational English to middle-school students in Deva, Romania, I became acquainted with the work of Romanian poets.  These included:  Mikhail Eminescu (1850-1889, a Romantic poet, much loved and esteemed, honored with a portrait on Romanian currency), George Bakovia (1881-1957, a Symbolist poet, and a favorite poet of Doru Radu, an English teacher in Deva with whom I worked on some translations of Bacovia into English), Nichita Stanescu  (1933-1983, an important post-war poet, a Nobel Prize nominee -- and a poet who often used mathematical concepts and images in his verse).
     On April 24, 2014 at the Nora School here in Silver Spring I will be reading (sharing the stage with Martin Dickinson and Michele Wolf) some poems of Romania -- reading both my own writing of my Romania experiences and some translations of work by Romanian poets.     Here is a sample (translated by Gabriel Praitura and me) of  a poem by Nichita Stanescu:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dimensions of a soul

In the poem below, Young Smith uses carefully precise terms of Euclidean geometry to create a vivid interior portrait.

     She Considers the Dimensions of Her Soul   by Young Smith

     The shape of her soul is a square.
     She knows this to be the case
     because she often feels its corners
     pressing sharp against the bone
     just under her shoulder blades
     and across the wings of her hips. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Vector Space Poem

     As a Columbia undergraduate, media artist Millie Niss (1973-2009) majored in mathematics and was enrolled in a math PhD program at Brown University when she decided to make writing her full-time career.  Before her untimely death in 2009 Niss was well-established in Electronic Literature.   Here is a link to "Morningside Vector Space," one of the poems at Niss's website Sporkworld (at Sporkworld, click on the the E-poetry link).
     Niss's electronic poem retells a story (inspired by the Oulipian Raymond Queneau's Exercises de Style) in many different styles and following many different constraints. The computer is central to the retelling as the text varies almost smoothly along two dimensions, controlled by the position of the mouse pointer in a colored square (to the right in the screen-shot below).  Behind this poetry is the mathematical concept of a two-dimensional vector space, in which each point (or text) has a coordinate with respect to  each basis vector (version of the text, or dimension along which the text can change).

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fractal Geometry

Lee Felice Pinkas is one of the founding editors of cellpoems -- a poetry journal distributed via text message.  I found her poem,"The Fractal Geometry of Nature" in the Winter/Spring 2009 Issue (vol.14, no 1) of Crab Orchard Review.

The Fractal Geometry of Nature       by Lee Felice Pinkas

               Most emphatically, I do not consider
               the fractal point of view as a panacea. . .
                                             --Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010)

Father of fractals, we were foolish
to expect a light-show from you,

hoping your speech would fold upon itself
and mimic patterns too complex for Euclid. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

April Celebrates Poetry and Mathematics

On April 1 (the first day of National Poetry Month and Mathematics Awareness Month) Science writer Stephen Ornes offered a guest post at The Last Word on Nothing entitled "Can an Equation be a Poem?" and on April 2 the Ornes posting appeared again, this time in the blog Future Tense at with the title "April Should Be Mathematical Poetry Month."
     In her comment on "Can an Equation be a Poem?" Scientific American blogger Evelyn Lamb (Roots of Unity mentioned her math-poetry post on March 21 entitled "What T S Eliot Told Me About the Chain Rule."  Lamb quotes lines from the final stanza "Little Gidding," the last of Eliot's Four Quartets.   Here is the entire stanza with its emphasis on the mysteries of time and perspective, the circular nature of things, the difficulty of discovering a beginning.    

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Logic in limericks

In these lines, Sandra DeLozier Coleman (who participated in the math-poetry reading at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore in January) speaks as a professor reasoning in rhyme, explaining truth-value technicalities of the logical implication, "If p then q" (or, in notation, p -- > q ).

     The Implications of Logic     by Sandra DeLozier Coleman

     That p --> q is true,
     Doesn’t say very much about q.
     For if p should be false,
     Then there’s really no loss
     In assuming that q could be, too.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Can you SEE the monument?

Links to non-intersecting celebrations of April
as National Poetry Month      and      Mathematics Awareness Month
are available here and here.

Recently I revisited my copy of Elizabeth Bishop:  The Compete Poems, 1927-1979 (FSG, 1999) and turned to "The Monument" -- a poem mathematically interesting for its geometry.  Here are the opening lines; the complete text and many other Bishop poems are available online here:

from  The Monument     by Elizabeth Bishop  (1911-1979)

     Now can you see the monument? It is of wood
     built somewhat like a box. No. Built
     like several boxes in descending sizes
     one above the other.
     Each is turned half-way round so that
     its corners point toward the sides
     of the one below and the angles alternate.  

March, 2014 -- dates, titles of posts

Scroll down to find titles and dates of posts in 2014.  At the bottom is a links to lists of posts through  2013 and 2012 and 2011 -- and all the way back to March 2010 when this blog was begun.   This link leads to a PDF file that lists searchable topics and names of poets and mathematicians presented herein.

Mar 30  Split This Rock 2014 was great!
Mar 27  Women's History -- celebrate Caroline Herschel
Mar 23  Homage to Euclid
Mar 20  One geometry is not enough
Mar 16  Making something of nothing 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Split This Rock 2014 was great!

Split this Rock's biennial 4-day poetry festival ended today and the air in Washington, DC is electric with the passion of engagement -- minds and bodies energized by fine poems that demand opportunity and justice for all.  I was glad to be there, participating in workshops and readings led by today's finest poetic voices

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Women's History -- celebrate Caroline Herschel

     In the sixties when I spent a year at Bucknell University, I was a member of the "Department of Astronomy and Mathematics," a pairing of related disciplines. In past centuries, Mathematics was included in the liberal arts. In the twenty-first century often it is paired with Computer Science, and Astronomy is paired with Physics.  And so it goes.
      Poems by Laura Long tell of the pioneering work by astronomer Caroline Herschel -- a discoverer of eight comets, a cataloger of stars.  Long describes her recent collection,  The Eye of Caroline Herschel:  A Life in Poems (Finishing Line Press, 2013), in this way:      
                  This is a work of the imagination steeped in historical siftings 
                         and the breath between the lines.  
Here is the opening poem:  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Homage to Euclid

In my preceding post (20 March 2014) Katharine Merow's poem tells of the new geometries 
developed with variations of Euclid's Parallel Postulate.  
Martin Dickinson's poem, on the other hand, tells of richness within Euclid's geometry.
Poet and attorney Martin Dickinson is with the Environmental Law Institute and is a long term activist. The Nora School Poetry Series has scheduled both of us (along with Michele Wolfe) to be part of a reading next month on April 24, 2014 .  It is my additional good fortune that conversations with Dickinson have included his sharing with me this mathy poem:

     Homage to Euclid       by Martin Dickinson

     What points are these,
     visible to us, yet revealing something invisible—
     invisible, yet real? 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

One geometry is not enough

Writer Katharine Merow is in the Publications Department of the Washington DC headquarters of the MAA (Mathematical Association of America) and she is one of the poets who participated in the "Reading of Poetry with Mathematics" at JMM in Baltimore last January.  Here is the engaging poem Merow read at that event -- a poem that considers the 19th century development of new and "non-euclidean" geometries from variants of Euclid's fifth postulate, the so-called parallel postulate:

       Geometric Proliferation    by Katharine Merow

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Making something of nothing

     Was zero invented or discovered?  When and how?  By whom?  In "The Origin of Zero" -- an article published in 2009 in in Scientific American --  John Matson introduces an interesting history of zero (something vs. nothing and so on...).  Recently through the Splendid Wake poetry project (with an open-to-all meeting on Friday March 21 -- go here for details) I have connected with Washington DC poet William Rivera who has shared with me this poem that also examines the puzzle of the somethingness of nothing.

Nothing Changes Everything     by William Rivera

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tomorrow is Pi Day

     Tomorrow is Pi Day and I offer no new poems but supply links to several previous posts.  Poetry of π may be found on 23 August 2010 (an "irrational sonnet" by Jacques Bens),  6 September 2010 (featuring work by Kate Bush,  Robert Morgan and Wislawa Szymborska),  10 September 2010 (mnemonics for π, especially from Mike Keith) , 15 March, 2011,(a poem by Lana Hechtman Ayers)  27 November 2011 (a poem by Brian McCabe) and 10 March 2013 (the opening lines of a poem "3.141592 . . ." by Peter Meinke).

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tragedy of the Commons

Thinking in syllable-squares,
recalling ecologist Garrett Hardin (1915-2003)
and his 1968 wisdom, "Tragedy of the Commons."

may not be                   

Saturday, March 8, 2014

SHE measures the heavens . . .

Today is International Women's Day, celebrated with a charming video at and here with lines from Enheduanna (2285-2250 BCE), the earliest woman known to me who was both poet and mathematician.

     The true woman who possesses exceeding wisdom,
     She consults a tablet of lapis lazuli,
     She gives advice to all lands,
     She measures off the heavens, she places the
               measuring cords on the earth.

These lines (found in the preface, translated from Sumerian sources by Ake W Sjoberg and E Bergmann S J) and much more poetry-with-math are found in Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics (AK Peters, 2008) -- a collection edited by Sarah Glaz and me.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A poetry album by Lucille Clifton

March is Women's History Month and here, today, I celebrate by acknowledging a special woman, Lucille Clifton (1936-2010).  From 1979–1985 Clifton served as Poet Laureate of Maryland.  Her poetry celebrates both her African-American heritage and her womanhood.  Here is "album," a poem in Clifton's spare and un-capitalized style -- and containing a few numbers to help us keep track of the times that are changing.

album     by Lucille Clifton

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sociology of Numbers

Robert Dawson is a mathematics professor at St Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia -- an active mathematician who complements his research activity with mathematics education and with poetry. The following Dawson poem appeared here in 2013 -- in the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, a journal whose every issue contains some poetry-with-mathematics.

Some Contributions to the Sociology of Numbers     by Robert Dawson

The ones you notice first are the natural  numbers.
Everybody knows their names; they are the anchors,
the stars, the alphas, the reference points. And of course
the rational numbers, who hang out with them,
sit next to them in arithmetic class.

February, 2014 -- dates, titles of posts

Scroll down to find titles and dates of posts in January, 2014.  At the bottom is a links to lists of posts through  2013 and 2012 and 2011 -- and all the way back to March 2010 when this blog was begun.   This link leads to a PDF file that lists searchable topics and names of poets and mathematicians presented herein.

Feb 26  Long division is difficult . . . 
Feb 23  Angles in Alaska
Feb 20  Excitement of Proving a Theorem
Feb 18  Wartime recurrence
Feb 13  Mother Courage -- and speaking of opposites 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Long division is difficult . . .

Last Monday included a visit with old friends of whom I see too little, Silver Spring artist Mark Behme -- with whom I did some art-poetry collaboration a few years  back -- and Chevy Chase artist-writer-economist-activist, Kyi May Kaung.  After lunch at nearby Mandalay we three walked to Mark's studio and hung out for a while, admiring and talking about his new work.  When I arrived home, I dug out several poems developed from Mark's sculpture -- finding some pieces I'd not thought about for a while.  Here is one of these, a mathy poem that partners with Mark's "Split Tales."

          Which Girl Am I?      by JoAnne Growney

          The girl who’s not forced to divide
          into the good girl and the real one
          is a lucky one.  I was eleven
          when I felt a crack begin.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Angles in Alaska

Last Thursday evening I was honored to read in Takoma Park's Third Thursday poetry series -- along with poets Judy Neri and Kathleen O'Toole -- and my reading focused on poems of my times in Alaska.  The brilliant geometry of  our 49th state affected me strongly and "Angles of Light" became the title poem for a chapbook I published with Finishing Line Press in 2009.  Here is section 3 (of 7) from that poem.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Excitement of Proving a Theorem

Wow!  From first sighting, I have loved this description:

       I prove a theorem and the house expands:
       the windows jerk free to hover near the ceiling,
       the ceiling floats away with a sigh.

These lines from "Geometry" by Rita Dove express -- as well as any string of twenty-four words I can think of -- the excitement experienced from proving a theorem.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Wartime recurrence

In mathematics, it is not unusual to define an entity using a recurrence relation. 
For example, in defining powers of a positive integer:
       The 2nd power of  7  may be defined as  7  x  71 ;
               the 3rd power of  7  may be defined as  7  times  72
              and the 4th power is  7  times  73,
              and, in general, for any positive integer n,  7n+1  =  7  x  7n

Several weeks ago I attended a reading of fine poetry here in Silver Spring at the Nora School  -- a reading that featured DC-area poets Judith Bowles, Luther Jett, and David McAleavey.  I was delighted to hear in "Recessional" -- one of the poems presented that evening by Jett -- the mathematical pattern of recurrence, building stepwise  with a potentially infinite number of steps (as with the powers of 7, above) into a powerful poem.  I include it below:  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mother Courage -- and speaking of opposites

     Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) was a poet, but I have not found mathematics in his poems.  Still, I want to note here a fantastic performance of his play, Mother Courage and her Children, starring Kathleen Turner and a talented ensemble at Washington,DC's Arena Stage.  Invited by my neighbors, Mitzi and Pati, I joined them yesterday for a riveting performance.   Here is a link to "How Fortunate the Man with None," a Brecht poem  heartily sung as "Solomon's Song" in the current musical production.
     And here, with a nod to the mathematical bent of this blog, is a quote from Brecht's Mother Courage that involves counting; also, it is one of many examples of a strategy that Brecht uses often and well -- encouraging an idea by speaking of its opposite. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

To love, in perfect syllables

     While looking for Valentine verse with a math connection, I opened my copy of The Complete Illustrated Works of Lewis Carroll (Chancellor Press, 1982).  And found this one in which Carroll (a pen name for English mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodson (1832-1898)) uses the word one twice and the word half twice and has counted sounds so that in each line the number of syllables is either a cube of an integer or is perfect.

        Lesson in Latin     by Lewis Carroll    (May 1888)   

Friday, February 7, 2014

Love and Mathematics -- Please be my Valentine!

Poet extraordinaire Maxine Kumin (1925-2014) died yesterday.  
Here is a link to a wonderful eleven of her poems from Persimmon Tree

Late in 2007, AKPeters released Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics, edited by Sarah Glaz and me.  Recently at a Howard County Math Festival I met a young man who browsed my copy of this anthology and found it the perfect Valentine.  And so might you.  Below I include a sample from the collection -- a love sonnet by Jean de Sponde (1557-1595), translated from the French by David Slavitt.

 Several previous postings have offered love poems of mathematics and mathematicians; 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Six Million

       Sometimes numbers become labels for particular events.  When I was growing up, all of us knew 1492 as a label for the discovery of America.  And 1941 recognized Pearl Harbor.  The following selection from a poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000) reminds us of the awful importance of 6 million
       While mentioning this poem of witness and remembering, I want also to remind you of the very special Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, to held in Washington, DC, March 27-30, 2014. (Early-bird registration ends on Valentine's Day, February 14th at midnight.)  Hope to see you there. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Forecasting snow and poetry


is that other world
in which no schedules sit
and no ambitions flare
to interrupt the bluest sky
and whitest field
and coldest air

January, 2014 -- dates, titles of posts

Scroll down to find titles and dates of posts in January, 2014.  At the bottom is a links to lists of posts through  2013 and 2012 and 2011 -- and all the way back to March 2010 when this blog was begun.   This link leads to a PDF file that lists searchable topics and names of poets and mathematicians presented herein.

   Jan 31  On shoulders of giants . . . 
   Jan 28  Little Boxes
   Jan 28  Graffiti Calculus
   Jan 25  Mathematics is like . . .  

Friday, January 31, 2014

On shoulders of giants . . .

     Washington, DC is a city rich with both poetry and mathematics.  Last Tuesday evening I attended a Mathematical Association of America (MAA) lecture by author and math historian William Dunham (whom I knew when he taught for a bunch of years at Pennsylvania's Muhlenberg College, in Eastern Pennsylvania, not so far from my employer, Bloomsburg University).  Dunham spoke of insights gained by many hours reading the correspondence of British mathematician and scientist, Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727).  The discoverer of "gravity,"  and, moreover, both a genius and a disagreeable man.  Still, Newton was a man who gave a nod to his predecessors, "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants."

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Little Boxes

It is hard to know what to say.
Pete Seeger died yesterday at age 94.  
94 = 2 x 47.  47 is prime.
Here is a link to Pete singing "Little Boxes."
Song lyrics are poems.

Graffiti Calculus

     In my dreams I am an artist -- a cartoonist, perhaps, or a graffiti artist -- so skilled with lines and curves and so clever that my art gives pleasure AND delivers a punch.
     And so I am gratefully into the math-art connections provoked by a new book by Mary-Sherman Willis -- aptly titled Graffiti Calculus (CW Books, 2013).  I first met Willis in December, at Cafe Muse (where I will read next Monday, Feb 3 with Stephanie Strickland) and it was my pleasure also to hear her read again from that collection at the Joint Mathematics Meetings.  These poems by Willis give us, in sixty poetic chapters, the story of a mother seeking her son by following his graffiti tags through the city.  Here is a sample, sections 5 and 6: 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mathematics is like . . .

For angling may be said to be so like the mathematics,
that it can never be fully learnt; at least not so fully, 
but that there will still be more new experiments left 
for the trial of other men that succeed us.  

 Izaak Walton (1594-1683), The Compleat Angler (1653-1676)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Extraneous -- and so on

     Since my junior high math days, when I first heard the word "extraneous," I have loved the sound of it, the feel of my mouth when I say it, the mystery of how solving an equation can lead to extra solutions.   And then learning to check found-solutions to see if they were true solutions -- a process that has been multiply useful to me far afield from mathematics.
     My love for this math-word drew me quickly to the title of a poem by Alex Walsh, a high school student from Oberlin, Ohio, who presented her work at the poetry-with-math reading at JMM in Baltimore last Friday.   Here are her poems "Convergence" and "The Extraneous Solution" :

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Word problems

       Scarcity:  Why Having Too Little Means So Much (a Times book by S. Mullainathan and E. Shafir, released last September) considers not only the facts but the feelings of scarcity and finds similarities between those those with too little time and those with too little money.  The authors report, further, that persons experiencing scarcity do not have the luxury of doing well in their studies -- of mathematics or poetry -- because the scarcity demands their first attention.
       And  . . . this connection between external environment and a student's learning brings me to a poem by Dian Sousa, a poem that gives us some things to think about.  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Poems and primes

Friday morning, 1-17-2014, looking north from the Baltimore Convention Center

       This past week I enjoyed Thursday and Friday at the Joint Mathematics Meetings at the Convention Center in Baltimore, a time for connecting with some old friends and making some new ones.  I gave a presentation in one of the sessions on the Intersection of Mathematics and the Arts, sharing poems -- such as Sherman Stein's "Mathematician" -- that can help non-maths to understand more clearly the nature of mathematics.  The handout for my talk contained a list of more than thirty poems that can help to communicate the nature of mathematics and it is available for download here

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Poetry-with-math, Jan 17, Baltimore

Please join us!
 A Reading of Poetry with Mathematics
  Friday,  January 17, 2014   4:30 - 6:30 PM
 Room 308  Baltimore Convention Center 
At the national Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore, the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics is sponsoring a poetry reading.  Following participation by these poets,who have submitted work in advance, there will be an open reading in which interested audience members will be invited to share their math-related poems.  Participating poets include: Gizem Karaali, Katharine Merow, Karen Morgan Ivy, Mary-Sherman Willis, Alex Walsh, Ted Theodosopoulos, Stephanie Strickland, Myra Sklarew, JoAnne Growney, E. Laura Golberg, Sandra DeLozier Coleman, Rosanna Iembo, and Irene Iaccarino (musician).
Sunrise gives
each  of  us
a shadow.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Writing mathy poems - a student activity

On the web-page of mathematician-poet Sarah Glaz I found a link to this file of math-related poems that she prompted students to write when she visited an Arcadia University class session of "Truth and Beauty:  A Course in Mathematics and Literature" taught by mathematician-poet Marion Cohen.  The writing was prompted by an activity-list developed by mathematician-poet Carol Dorf.  Poems by Whitney Boeckel and Olivia Lantz particularly caught my eye and, with their permission, I present them here:

Friday, January 10, 2014

The discipline of mathematics

This poem remembers one of my students.

       The Prince of Algebra      by JoAnne Growney

       Madam Professor,
       let me introduce myself.
       I'm Albert James,
       whom you may know
       by my test score
       that's lower than my age.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Martin Gardner, again

     This past weekend a review by Teller (magician of the Penn & Teller team) of an autobiography of Martin Gardner appeared in the NYTimes Book Review.  According to Teller, Gardner (1914-2010) wrote the memoir, Undiluted Hocus-Pocus:  The Autobiography of Martin Gardner, at the age of 95 on an old electric typewriter in his single-room assisted-living apartment in Norman, Oklahoma.    

Friday, January 3, 2014

Count what counts

When I visited Iceland last month, I looked in the bookstores of Reykjavik for bilingual (Icelandic-English) poetry collections; I found none. I did, however, acquire a copy of  The Sayings of the Vikings (Gudrun Publishing, 1992), a translation by Bjorn Jonasson of Hávamál -- "sayings of the high one" -- from the Poetic Edda, a collection of Old Norse poems from the Viking era and attributed to Odin.  Here are several samples that involve number or measurement:

     The Nature of  Hospitality

     I would be invited
     if I needn't eat at all. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 (and prior) -- titles, dates of posts

Scroll down to find dates and titles (with links) of posts in 2013.  At the bottom are links to posts through 2012 and 2011 -- and all the way back to March 2010 when this blog was begun.   This link leads to a PDF file that lists searchable topics and names of poets and mathematicians presented herein.

Dec 30  Error Message Haiku
Dec 26  The angel of numbers . . .
Dec 23  Ah, you are a mathematician
Dec 20  Measuring Winter 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Error Message Haiku

Found at, a variety of (often-amusing) mathematical verses -- including a collection of Error Message Haiku.  Approaching a New Year, I have been reflecting on my device-dependencies and considering resolutions about them -- and musing over some of these wistful substitutions for machine messages I dread:

       A crash reduces
       Your expensive computer
       To a simple stone.

       Chaos reigns within.
       Reflect, repent, and reboot.
       Order shall return.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The angel of numbers . . .

This poem by Hanns Cibulka (1920 - 2004) -- translated from the German by Ewald Osers -- is collected in the anthology, Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics, edited by Sarah Glaz and me (A K Peters, 2008).

     Mathematics      by Hanns Cibulka     (trans. Ewald Osers)

                  And the angel of numbers
                  is flying
                  from 1 to 2...
                      Rafael Alberti

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ah, you are a mathematician

Thanks to Arturo Sangalli of the Writer's Union of Canada -- and fellow-participant in a recent Banff creativity conference --  who reminded me of this poem.  And thanks to Bill Dunham who has spread it widely by including it in The Mathematical Universe  (Wiley, 1997).  These brief stanzas were written in the early 1990s  when many of us kept our financial facts in checkbooks rather than online; still current, however, is the mistaken image of mathematicians as those whose task it is to keep numbers clean and orderly.

          Misunderstanding     by JoAnne Growney

          Ah, you are a mathematician,
              they say with admiration
              or scorn.    

Friday, December 20, 2013

Measuring Winter

Thomas Campion (1567-1620) was an English composer, physician, and poet.   I found this poem at

Now Winter Nights Enlarge     by Thomas Campion

Now winter nights enlarge
    The number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
    Upon the airy towers.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sieve of Eratosthenes

The Sieve of Eratosthenes     by Robin Chapman

He was an ancient Greek
looking for primes,
those whole numbers divisible
only by 1 and themselves,
those new arrivals on the block,
fresh additions to the stock
of indivisibles spilling through
future time (for what is time

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Amounting to Something

From the Fall/Winter 2013 issue of Poet Lore, a poem by David Wagoner about the arithmetic of expectations:

     Amounting to Something     by David Wagoner

     You were supposed to do that
     by saving yourself up
               like coins in a pig rescued
               just in time sometimes
     from in front of the candy counter  
     or the desk in the corridor

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

13 lads of Christmas

     In addition to waterfalls and geysers and the Aurora, Iceland has outstanding museums.  On the morning of December 10, I visited the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik -- and enjoyed a careful introduction to the history of this fascinating and friendly nation.  Something I missed, however, was seeing one of the 13 Yuletide Lads that are an Icelandic tradition and who visit the Museum one-by-one on the 13 days before Christmas, each wearing traditional costume and trying to pilfer the goodies he likes best.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Iceland -- poetry, stones

British translator and editor David McDuff blogs at "Nordic Voices in Print" -- a site that he uses as "a way of making some of my translations of Nordic poetry and prose available online."  Here is "stones" -- the third of a group of ten poems he has posted by Icelandic poet Sjón.  This one involves a few numbers and I present it here as a math-poetry token of the fascinating land I am planning to visit: a five-day Iceland vacation adventure, traveling with my Eastern Village neighbors Priscilla and Glenn. 

stones     by Sjón (translated by David McDuff)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Conversational mathematics

In recent weeks I have been experimenting with poems that use mathematical terminology, wondering whether -- since there are readers who are undaunted by unknown literary references (to Dante's Divine Comedy or Eliot's Prufrock, for example) -- some readers will relish a poem with unexplained mathematical connections.  In this vein I have offered "Love" (posted on on November 5) and now give the following poem, "Small Powers of Eleven are Palindromes":

Jan - Nov, 2013 -- dates, titles of posts

Scroll down to find titles and dates of posts in 2013.  At the bottom are links to posts through 2012 and 2011 -- and all the way back to March 2010 when this blog was begun.   This link leads to a PDF file that lists searchable topics and names of poets and mathematicians presented herein.

Nov 30  Last year's prediction 
Nov 27  Solving equations . . .
Nov 24  Algebra cadabra 
Nov 20  A poet (math-daughter) speaks of math's beauty 
Nov 18  Counting responses 
Nov 16  Inequality of Compromise

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Last year's prediction

This poem by Halifax mathematician and poet, Robert Dawson, appeared in LabLit  in December 2012 (just in time to offer gentle mocking of predicted disaster)!  Enjoy!

Survivor's Guide to the Baktun-13 Bug    by Robert Dawson

As you may know, at this years’ Winter Solstice
the 12-baktun Long Count will overflow.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Solving equations . . .

Although poets as long ago as Henry Lok (1553?-1608?), Elizabeth Tollett (1694-1854), and William Blake  (1757-1827) used mathematical imagery in their poems, the first collection of poetry-with-mathematics that I came to was Against Infinity:  An Anthology of Contemporary Mathematical Poetry (Primary Press, 1979), collected and edited by Ernest Robson and Jet Wimp.  This volume introduced me to poems I could use with my math students and one of my long-term favorites is "Algebra" by Linda Pastan who has, in turn, become one of my favorite poets. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Algebra cadabra

It was my good fortune to meet Colette Inez back in the early 1990s when she was poet-in-residence at Bucknell University. Then, as now, I was collecting poems-with-mathematics, and I have long loved this poem that weaves figuring into forests.

Forest Children     by Colette Inez

We heard swifts feeding in air,
sparrows ruffling dusty feathers,
a tapping on stones, mud, snow, pulp
when rain came down, the hiss of fire.
Counting bird eggs in a dome of twigs,
we heard trees fall and learned
to name them on a page for school. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A poet (math-daughter) speaks of math's beauty

I met Minnesota poet Roseann Lloyd when we served together on an AWP (Associated Writing Programs) conference panel on translation several years ago.  There I was considering, as I so often am, the translation of mathematics into representations that poets understand.  Roseann 's father was a mathematics professor and she learned early that "mathematics is its own beauty."  And she has permitted me to offer you this poem.


Once Daddy enthralled his students at SMS --
handsome in his navy blue suit and dusty hands,
chalk clicking out equations lickety-split.
A third-grader, I waited for him every day
in the cool marble hall.  Listened to the rhythm
of the chalk on the board.   Even then I knew
that pure math is an art equal to music, second
only to poetry in the realm of beauty.    

Monday, November 18, 2013

Counting responses

At the Poetry Foundation website, poet Audre Lorde (1934-1992) is described thus:

               A self-styled "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," 
               writer Audre Lorde dedicated both her life 
               and her creative talent to confronting and addressing 
               the injustices of racism, sexism, and homophobia.

Here is a counting poem by this fine, bold poet:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Inequality of Compromise

This past week I attended a wonderfully stimulating BIRS (Banff International Research Station) Conference  -- a gathering of creative writers in mathematics and the sciences -- and, as I told colleagues at Banff of early days in my long-term interest in the poetry of mathematics, I recalled the fine collection Against Infinity:  An Anthology of Contemporary Mathematical Poetry (Primary Press, 1979), collected and edited by Ernest Robson and Jet Wimp.  Today I pulled it from my shelves and again turned its pages.  "Compromise" by Missouri mathematician Charles S. Allen caught my eye.  Here it is: 

Monday, November 11, 2013

The minute in infinity

From  Treatise on Infinite Series     by Jacob Bernoulli

Even as the finite encloses an infinite series
      And in the unlimited limits appear,
So the soul of immensity dwells in minutia
      And in narrowest limits no limits inhere.
What joy to discern the minute in infinity!
      The vast to perceive in the small, what divinity! 

                    Translated from the Latin by Helen M. Walker

Found in the anthology, Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics (A K Peters, 2008), edited by Sarah Glaz and me.  A complete table of Contents for this collection may be found here.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Like advanced math?

One thing leads to another . .. . poet Amy Eisner connected me to mathematician Jordan Ellenberg who knew of Easy Math (Sarabande Books, 2013) by Lauren Shapiro -- and Lauren gave me permission to post her "Bent Syllogism."

 Bent Syllogism     by Lauren Shapiro

There was a pattern to the way the mythical beasts
flew over the dreary town, but we were too dreary
to understand it.  The psychologist, too, was in touch
with extraterrestrials, but she had to stand on the spire
of a church and wear 3-D glasses to see them. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Love mathematics!

In the stanzas below, I have some fun with math terminology.  Hope you'll enjoy it too.

       Love!        by JoAnne Growney

       Love algebra!  Through variable numbers
       of factored afternoons and prime evenings,
       party in and out of your circle of associates,
       identify your identity,  meet your inverse.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Neruda speaks of numeration

The collection, Late and Posthumous Poems, 1968-1974 (Grove Press, 1988) by Chilean Nobelist Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) offers to readers a collection of Neruda's later work, ably translated by Ben Belitt.  Here is a poem that explores the vast world opened by the invention of numeration.

     28325674549     by Pablo Neruda

     A hand made the number.
     It joined one little stone
     to another, one thunderclap
     to another,
     one fallen eagle
     to another, one
     arrowhead to another,
     and then with the patience of granite
     the hand 
     made a double incision, two wounds,
     and two grooves:  and a
     number was born.

Jan - Oct, 2013 -- dates, titles of posts

Scroll down to find titles and dates of posts in 2013.  At the bottom are links to posts through 2012 and 2011 -- and all the way back to March 2010 when this blog was begun.   This link leads to a PDF file that lists searchable topics and names of poets and mathematicians presented herein.

Oct 31  On poetry and geometric truth . . .
Oct 29  From order to chaos -- a sonnet  
Oct 26  Two cultures 
Oct 22  Two-line poems -- Landays -- from Afghanistan
Oct 21  Topology for poets 
Oct 18  Mathematics of love . . .  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

On poetry and geometric truth . . .

          On poetry and geometric truth
          And their high privilege of lasting life,
          From all internal injury exempt,
          I mused; upon these chiefly:  and at length,
          My senses yielding to the sultry air,
          Sleep seized me, and I passed into a dream.

                                                  William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
                                                  from The Prelude, Book 5

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

From order to chaos -- a sonnet

Fractals    by Diana Der-Hovanessian

                             Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare
                                                    --Edna St. Vincent Millay

Euclid alone began to formulate
the relation of circle, plane and sphere
in equations making it quite clear
that symmetry is what we celebrate. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Two cultures

The opening poem of Uneasy Relations by mathematician-poet Michael Bartholomew-Biggs is concerned with similarities and differences between mathematical and poetic cultures -- a topic of immense interest also to me and one that I too try to address in my verse.  I wonder --  HOW can I show non-mathematicians that good mathematics is poetry??!!  And, moreover, how can I (mostly a mathematician) write (as advocated by Wallace Stevens and agreed with by other poets) of things rather than (as mathematics wants) of ideas.  OR, may one make poetry of ideas?

   Two Cultures     by Michael Bartholomew-Biggs

   Graves claimed there isn't
   much money in poetry:
   and none vice-versa.

   The first part stays true
   if we replace poetry
   by mathematics. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Two-line poems -- Landays -- from Afghanistan

Celebrate Activist Poetry -- At Nov. 1 Event

BE THERE on November 1, 2013 at the Goethe-Intitut in Washington DC when poet and journalist Eliza Griswold is  honored with the Split this Rock Freedom Plow Award (register here for this important event) for Poetry and Activism for her work collecting and introducing the folk poems of Afghan women to America.  The June issue of Poetry Magazine is entirely dedicated to landays -- two-line poems by Afghan women that capture dark, funny, and revealing moments that few outsiders ever witness.  (Edited and introduced by Griswold, the poems are magnificently supplemented by photographs by Seamus Murphy.)

Here are three landays from Griswold's Poetry collection, each selected for inclusion here because it includes at least one number: 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Topology for poets

     The title of this posting ("Topology for Poets") comes from Maryland Poet Amy Eisner's poem "Lure" (offered below) -- a poem that plays with math concepts.  (In mathematics, "topology" is a variant of geometry in two shapes are "equivalent" if one could be obtained from the other by stretching or bending.)   
     It was my pleasure to meet Amy when she read in the Takoma Park Third Thursday Poetry Series earlier this year.   I like her work.  Enjoy!

Lure    by Amy Eisner


My friend is crocheting a fishing line. This is not a gift and keeps no one warm.
This is withdrawing. Persisting in a flaw. Forfending.

She knows there’s something perverse in it. Like growing a mold garden.
Fishing does involve a hook, a line, and a net. But not like this.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Mathematics of love . . .

"Mathematics of Love" is the title poem of a collection by John Edwin Cohen (1941-2012), published in 2011 by Anaphora Literary Press and presented here with press permission.  Cohen has used mathematics playfully and does what a mathematician never dares to do, use a mathematical term with other than its precise meaning. Still, perhaps, even math folks may enjoy this application of geometric shape and poetic license!

Mathematics of Love     by John Edwin Cohen


       Engine of joy
       arithmetic and sincere
       holding the hemisphere
              and geometry of