Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving, 2015

Thinking toward Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, I am grateful for  --
 in addition to my children and grandchildren who will gather --
 all of the mathematic and poetic voices that help me see our world.
 Happy Thanksgiving wishes for all who read here!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Quoting Isaac Newton . . . . a "found" poem

     I do not know what
     I may appear to the world;
     but to myself I seem to have been
     only like a boy playing on the seashore,
     and diverting myself now and then
     finding a smoother pebble
     or a prettier shell than ordinary,
     whilst the great ocean of truth
     lay all undiscovered before me.

   -Isaac Newton, philosopher and mathematician (1642-1727)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Axiom: A Mathematics of Poetry

Today in a Facebook posting by Susanne Pumpluen
 I learned of Discov-her, an online journal 
featuring stories about women in Science. 
* * *
     The following poetry offering is by Richard Smyth who has written a parody of an introduction to the mathematics of logic (specifically Laws of Form by G Spencer Brown*, Julian Press, 1972)Smyth founded Anabiosis Press which offers the poetry journal Albatross and which has now evolved into Anabiosis Online.  
     I invite you to enjoy this play of words and ideas:


It shall be taken as given the idea of infinition. The idea of infinition stands in direct opposition to the idea of definition.

     Infinition is the act of making indefinite or unclear. That is to say, while some uses of language attempt to clarify, others attempt to obfuscate.

     Make a poem.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Encouragement from fathers, a second view

     Despite the importance of fathers' encouragement (as noted in my post on 13 November), some women oppose their fathers' views.  Recently I have been enjoying Rachel Swaby's Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World  (Broadway Books, 2015) and yesterday my reading focused on her bios of Maria Agnesi (1718-1799) and Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) and the roles their fathers played in their lives.  Agnesi was a child prodigy who wished to be a nun but followed her father's wish that she research in mathematics until his death, when she was thirty-four; she devoted the rest of her life to serving the poor.  The education of Ada Lovelace was directed by her mother who did not see her father, the poet Lord Byron, as a solid foundation.  
     Poetic expression by a daughter somewhat resistant to her father's wishes comes from our youngest-ever US Poet Laureate Rita Dove in her poem, "Flash Cards": 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Encouragement from fathers

     It was my observation as a professor in a mostly-male mathematics department that the men who joined me in supporting opportunities for women were fathers of daughters.  They had come to see the world from a new perspective -- and saw that it needed changing.  Somewhat along these lines was a recent Washington POST article that told of recent research findings about socially responsible behavior from CEO's with daughters.
      With these thoughts in mind I started counting words . . . wanting to form a poem:

Monday, November 9, 2015

Limericks for Hedy Lamarr

     When seeking to draft a poem quickly, it is useful to have some sort of pattern to follow -- a pattern helping to dictate word choice.  This morning, upon discovering Google's online celebration of the 101st birthday of inventor and actress Hedy Lamarr, I have wanted to join the commemoration with a poem.  A verse pattern rather often used by hasty math writers is the limerick (see links below) -- and I have today constructed this pair of limericks to praise Lamarr.

     May a beautiful actress present
     Skills beyond stage and screen content?
          Yes!  Hedy Lamarr
          Excelled as a star,
     And had also talent to invent!  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

It is clear that . . .

     "If I stand"     by Inger Christensen  (Denmark, 1935-2009)

               If I stand
               alone in the snow
               it is clear
               that I am a clock

               how else would eternity
               find its way around                
Translated from the Danish by Susannah Nied

Monday, November 2, 2015

Artificial Intelligence in the Library . . .

     Libraries are wonderful places and library book sales are temptations impossible to resist -- and so, during a recent trip to Boston and exploration of the historic public library buildings on Boylston Street, I purchased a copy of Living Proof  (Florida International University Press, 1985) by Edmund Skellings (1932-2012).  Born in Boston and a poet laureate of Florida, Skellings was a pioneer in the application of computers to the arts and humanities.  The word "proof" in his title was enough to make me pick up the book and I have relished the opportunity to turn up memories of a long ago graduate course in AI while reading this poem:

Artificial Intelligence     by Edmund Skellings

Euclid rolled over in his bones
When Newell & Simon instructed
Their machine to look for new proof
For bisecting the ordinary triangle.   

October, 2015 (and prior) -- titles, dates of posts

Scroll down to find titles and dates of posts so far in 2015.  
And follow these links for each year to to go to lists of posts through 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 -- and all the way back to March 2010 when this blog was begun. At the top of the column on the right is a SEARCH box for the blog and this link leads to a PDF file of searchable topics and names of poets and mathematicians presented herein.
     Oct 29  Mathematics and Poetry ARE Similar
     Oct 27  The magic of mathematics (in art)
     Oct 23  JMM Seattle, 1-7-16 -- Poetry+Math+Art
     Oct 19  Celebrating waves of light . . .
     Oct 15  Use a phone App to find mathy poems
     Oct  8  Daughter and Father - a warm geometry . . . 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mathematics and Poetry ARE Similar

        A recent email request sent me looking for a one-page article / quiz I had published in the American Mathematical Monthly in 1992 -- a list of 17 statements (quotations) each with a word missing.   The missing words are either "mathematics" or "poetry" (or a related word).  My claim is that, without using the author's name as a clue, it is difficult to decide which of these arts is intended.  I offer here the first four of the statements and suggest you reflect on missing words and then, if you wish, follow this link to a file with the entire list --   including also the author of each quote and (afterward) a list of the missing words.

_____  is the art of uniting pleasure with truth.   (Mathematics/Poetry)

To think the thinkable -- that is the ____'s aim.   (mathematician/poet)     

All _____ [is] putting the infinite within the finite.   (mathematics/poetry) 

The moving power of _____ invention is not reasoning 
                                                    but imagination.     (Mathematical/Poetic) 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The magic of mathematics (in art)

     Australian teacher and  poet Erica Jolly is convinced that breaking down the barriers that make silos of sciences and humanities subjects will promote better education systems and improve job prospects for students.  She brings mathematics into this engaging poem found in Holding Patterns, an online book of physics and engineering poems, part of the "Science Made Marvelous" project.

Sculpture at Questacon (Australia National Science and Technology Center)      
                                                                                       by Erica Jolly
     It looks like magic --
     children are turning
     a great stone sphere
     this way and that
     smoothly, easily.  

Friday, October 23, 2015

JMM Seattle, 1-7-16 -- Poetry+Math+Art

 Read your mathy poems in Seattle!
An invitation to participate -- in January!  Read on!

 ANNOUNCING Poetry + Art + Math
 January 7, 2016, Thursday, 5:30 pm–7:00 pm.
Room 608, Washington State Convention Center, Seattle 
     At the Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM) organized by Gizem Karaali, Pomona College; 
Lawrence M. Lesser, University of Texas at El Paso; and Douglas Norton, Villanova University. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Celebrating waves of light . . .

     On October 8, Scotland's celebration of National Poetry Day had the theme "Light."  An online collection of themed poems suitable for children is available here.  From my Romanian friend, Doru Radu, who attended that celebration, I received poem-cards from the event. One of the cards contained a poem by filmmaker and poet Margaret Tait (1918-1999). I include that poem with its accompanying image below.  

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Use a phone App to find mathy poems

A day late, Happy Birthday, E. E. Cummings 
(b 14 October 1894, d 3 September 1962).

     One of my favorite poetry sites is -- publisher of POETRY Magazine and supplier of a wonderful phone app (also entitled POETRY).  The app offers access to an enormous data-base of poems, sorted into categories that may be accessed using a SPIN feature, activated by touch.  Spinning the upper layer of categories can lead to "Humor" or "Joy" or "Insecurity" or  . . ..  Spinning the lower layer of categories can lead to "& Life" or  "& Nature" or . . . . When my spin picked the match of "Humor" and "& Arts and Sciences" I found a list of 263 poems.  One was Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky."  I also found the tiny poem "Nothing"  by Ken Mikolowski that plays with meaning as mathematicians also love to do. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Daughter and Father - a warm geometry . . .

     Kate Stange is a mathematician -- from the Canadian province of Ontario and now at the University of Colorado -- whose father, Ken Stange, is a visual artist and poet. I met them on the internet via our combined interests in the intersections of poetry and mathematics. Lots of years ago, Kate gathered an online anthology of mathy poems. One of her recent online ventures is the development of WIN -- Women in Number Theory.  Below I offer one of Ken Stange's poems, taken from his collection Advice to Travellers (Penumbra, 1994).

Don't Mistake Your Mirror for a Window on the World     by Ken Stange

A reflection is both a thought about the world and the image we see in the mirror. -- Hippokrites

Consider your daughter's first smile.   

Toward Infinity . . .

     During summer teaching opportunities a dozen or more years ago in Deva, Romania I met Doru Radu who taught English there -- and our mutual love of poetry led us to collaborate on English translations of work by Romanian poets George Bacovia and Ileana Malancioiu.  Now Doru is in Poland and he is translating Polish poetry into Romanian.  One of his favorite poets is Ewa Lipska -- a poet I have met via Poetry International.  Below is her poem "Newton's Orange:  Infinity" -- found at Poetry International together with the original Polish poem.
     As I have noted before, "infinity" is a term whose varied uses fascinate me.  Sometimes I wonder how much of my "mathematical" understanding of the concept I might some day incorporate into a poem.

     Newton's Orange:  Infinity     by  Ewa Lipska   

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A mathematician's favorite poet

     A summertime gift book that I have much enjoyed reading is Love & Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality by Edward Frenkel (Basic Books, 2013).  I admire the way Frenkel's memoir braids mathematics together with the other threads of his life.  Including poetry.  Like me, he chooses E E Cummings as one of his favorite poets.  And he used lines from Cummings' 1931 poem "the surely" as an epigram for a 2007 book that summarized his work.
     Below I include the entire text of Cummings' poem, with Frenkel's epigraph highlighted in bold face.

the surely     

motif smites truly to Beautifully
retire through its english

the Forwardflung backwardSpinning hoop returns fasterishly

September, 2015 (and prior) -- titles, dates of posts

Scroll down to find titles and dates of posts so far in 2015.  
And follow these links for each year to to go to lists of posts through 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 -- and all the way back to March 2010 when this blog was begun. At the top of the column on the right is a SEARCH box for the blog and this link leads to a PDF file of searchable topics and names of poets and mathematicians presented herein.

Sept 28  A subtraction problem
Sept 24  C K Williams -- Three Mile Island 
Sept 21  Choosing what words mean . . .
Sept 18  Words of Ada Lovelace
Sept 15  Shaping sentences with Fibonacci numbers . . . 

Monday, September 28, 2015

A subtraction problem

Let's solve this subtraction problem:

                    Women do the job
            minus   the recognition.    

      The "found poem" above is from a headline for an article by Petula Dvorak in the Washington Post on 21 August 2015.  Dvorak's full headline was a bit longer, "Women do the job minus the training and recognition."  (Indeed Dvorak's article portrays the military as an even more difficult environment for women than the STEM fields.)
       Also found in the Post (this past weekend) an enthusiastic review by Marcia Bartusiak of Eileen Pollack's The Only Woman In the Room:  Why Science Is Still a Boys' Club.  Another problem to solve!!!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

C K Williams -- Three Mile Island

A poet whose work I have long enjoyed, C K Williams  (1936-1915), died a few days ago.  (You may find a generous sample of his poems online -- for example at and  Williams is a poet whose writing does not tend toward mathematics but his very fine poem "Tar" (about the Three Mile Island nuclear plant crisis of 1979, a year when I lived in Pennsylvania not far away) has a few numbers.  I present below the first stanza of  "Tar" and, beneath it, a link to the rest of the poem.

from   Tar        by C. K. Williams

The first morning of Three Mile Island: those first disquieting, 
       uncertain, mystifying hours.    

Monday, September 21, 2015

Choosing what words mean . . .

     Nineteenth century writer and mathematician Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) gave his character, Humpty Dumpty, these words:  "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."  And so it is in mathematics -- where, for example, the term "rational" (used in the poem"The Disposition of Art," shown below) has a precise meaning that differs from its typical conversational usage.
     The photo below shows computer-generated art by Silver Spring artist Allen Hirsh -- and, beside it, a framed version of the poem mentioned above.  Our work was exhibited together at last summer's BRIDGES and MAA conferences.  A clearer presentation of Hirsh's art -- "An Outgrabed Mome Rath" -- is available here.  My poem is presented below, beneath the photo.  

Friday, September 18, 2015

Words of Ada Lovelace

These poetic words of Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) -- concerning translation of mathematical principles into practical forms -- I found here:

Those who view mathematical science,
not merely as a vast body
of abstract and immutable truths,
whose intrinsic beauty, symmetry and logical completeness,
when regarded in their connexion together as a whole,
entitle them to a prominent place 
in the interest of all profound and logical minds,  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Shaping sentences with Fibonacci numbers . . .

Counting words . . ..  

     1                One
     1               person
     2               with courage
     3               makes a majority.               Andrew Jackson (updated)

Counting syllables . . .

     1               Life
     1               is
     2               painting
     3               a picture
     5               not doing a sum.                    Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Songs of mathematics . . .

     Larry Lesser is a songwriter who uses lyrics for teaching as well as entertainment.  A varied sample of his creations for doing this are presented in his article "Mathematical lyrics;  noteworthy endeavours in education" found in the "Poetry and Mathematics / Special Issue" of the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts, March-June 2014).
     One of the article's enchanting items is a song for children -- "Circle Song" -- which Lesser has written to the familiar tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"; this lyric offers a way to remember critical formulas for a circle.

Circle Song     by Lawrence Mark Lesser

Take your finger 'round the jar:
Circumf'rence equals 2πr!  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

It starts with counting . . .

Mathematical imagery is one of the many features I enjoy in the work of Canadian environmental scientist and poet Madhur Anand.  Here is a sample from her new collection (A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes).
Background:  In an experiment designed to test the truth of a given statement 
(often called the null hypothesis), a Type I error occurs if the experiment results in a true hypothesis 
being rejected (a "false positive") and a Type II error occurs if a false hypothesis is accepted. 

Type One Error     by Madhur Anand

I avoid news, talk to strangers, walk around the block
a thousand times and toss nickels for random samples.
I still get a few false positives.  I'm fine.  It's good. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Mathematical Modeling

My friend and colleague, University of Connecticut mathematician Sarah Glaz, is an accomplished poet and is active in coordinating math-poetry activities -- via her website, the annual BRIDGES Conference, the anthology Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics . . . .  Here is one of her mathy poems -- this one a pantoum, first published in London Grip.

Mathematical Modelling     by Sarah Glaz

Mathematical modelling may be viewed
As an organizing principle
That enables us to handle
A vast array of information      

Monday, August 31, 2015

The answer is NO

This past weekend I have much enjoyed reading Mathematics:  a novel  by Jacques Roubaud  (Dalkey Archive Press, reprint 2010, translated from the French by Ian Monk); Roubaud is a mathematician, poet, and member of the OULIPO.  And here is a found poem from Chapter 1:
          posed to a
          lively colleague:

          do you tell your
          dancing partners
          that you practice

For me, like so many of us -- females especially -- revelation of a connection to mathematics leads to an awkward moment, an impediment to a possible relationship.  And so we say things like "I am at the university" or "I am doing some writing" or . . .

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hate Math -- 21 Reasons (NOT) . . .

Two four-letter words that I want NEVER to be used TOGETHER are hate and math.  A lively contradiction to my wish is provided by the following piece by slam poet Shappy Seasholtz.

(For details on the World Poetry Slam to be held in Washington DC on Oct. 7-10, 
scroll down to the bottom of this posting.)

21 Reasons Why I Hate Math     by Shappy Seasholtz

1 - It's my worst subject.
2 - I failed Algebra in high school.
3 - When I retook Algebra in high school during the final exam the principal announced that the space shuttle had just blown up.
4 - The space shuttle probably blew up because of a mathematical error. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Three (or fewer) choices

Here is a link to an anthology of English translations of work by Chilean poet and mathematician, Nicanor Parra.   Some rank Nicanor Segundo Parra Sandoval (born 5 September 1914) among the most important poets of Spanish language literature.   Parra describes himself as an "anti-poet," having a distaste for poetic pomp and function; after recitations he exclaims "Me retracto de todo lo dicho" ("I take back everything I said").  I posted Parra's small poem "Thoughts" here in October, 2010-- and below I offer another example of Parra's play with ideas and words and numbers:   

       The Last Toast   by Nicanor Parra

       Whether we like it or not,
       We have only three choices:
       Yesterday, today and tomorrow.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Caught in an infinite loop . . ..

Philadelphian Marion Cohen has been a mathematician since girlhood and a poet almost that long.  Besides her mathematics and writing, she teaches an interdisciplinary math-and-literature course at Arcadia University.  Here is a sample of Cohen's math poetry -- which imaginatively links mathematics to everyday life, sort of -- from her recent collection, Parables for a Rainy Day (Green Fuse Press, 2013).

Weirdness at 22nd and Walnut     by Marion D. Cohen    

Friday, August 14, 2015

Primes and a paradox

       Canadian poet Alice Major has loved and admired science and mathematics since girlhood and this background brings to her mathy poems both charm and amazement -- qualities that those of us who seriously studied mathematics easily lack.  At the recent BRIDGES conference I had a chance to hang out with Alice for a while and to purchase her latest collection, Standard Candles  (University of Alberta Press, 2015). Such fun to experience her views of infinities and paradoxes, of triangles and symmetries and formulas and ... .  
     Alice has given me permission to post two of her poems here; read on and enjoy "The god of prime numbers" and "Zeno's paradox."  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Reservation Mathematics

Both a talented writer and an articulate conveyor of the culture of American Indians, Sherman Alexie is a Spokane / Coeur d’Alene Indian from Wellpinit, Washington.  Besides several collections of poetry, Alexie has published novels and short-stories; he wrote the screen-play for the 1998 film, Smoke Signals.  "Reservation Mathematics"  is from Alexie's poetry collection First Indian on the Moon, (Hanging Loose Press, 1993) and was previously posted in this blog in January 2011.

Reservation Mathematics     by Sherman Alexie

Monday, August 10, 2015

Found on Facebook

A numerical poem, recently found on Facebook -- at this link:

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Buffalo 66

     Nearly twenty years ago, in the formative years of River Poets (in Bloomsburg, PA), Jim Murray from Shamokin, then a student at Bloomsburg University) and I both were part of the group that gathered at Phillips Emporium for monthly poetry readings.  We became friends who kept in touch as he traveled to South Dakota and South Korea -- and I almost got to hear him read in Bloomsburg last month. 
     In recent weeks I have been enjoying journeying with Jim across the years and miles, seeing his reflections and insights (and sense of humor) as revealed through his poetry collections, Almost Normal (, 2012) and Normal:  The Last Ride of a Poet (, 2015).  Moreover, a visit to Murray's Hard Coal Studios website reveals other facets of his creative activity -- his comics, his ghost stories, his novella, and more.    Here is a sample (a short poem from Almost Normal) set in the old Capitol Theatre (now a restaurant) located along Main Street in Bloomsburg back in the 90s when single theaters were losing viewers to multiplexes.

Monday, August 3, 2015

MatHEmatics / MatSHEmatics

     Last week at the 2015 BRIDGES Math-Arts Conference in Baltimore I gave a short talk on using poetry to celebrate and inspire math girls and women, to recognize achievements and to encourage speaking out -- and also to encourage staying and building community in what often is now a lonely field.  Through a poem we can open doors that help us to talk about difficult issues -- such as isolation or loneliness or misgivings or discrimination. 
     A time-clock at BRIDGES kept me from saying all that I would have wished --  I would like to have quoted the following lines, spoken by a girl and found in "Hanging Fire" by Caribbean-American poet Audre Lorde (1934-1992).

from   Hanging Fire      by Audre Lorde 

          Nobody even stops to think
          about my side of it
          I should have been on the Math Team
          my marks were better than his . . .  

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Algebra (sort of) in a short story

 Tomorrow I head to Baltimore for the BRIDGES Math-Arts Conference.
Explore the conference program at this link.  Would love to see you there!
It is my occasional delight to learn of a new mathy poem in an email message from Francisco José Craveiro de Carvalho, a Portuguese mathematician who loves poetry and has translated many math-related poems to and from his native language -- a seeker and finder of such poems who shares them with me.  (See also 23 October 2010, 17 September 2013, and 24 December 2014.)  A recent message from this friend alerted me to "Problem," an algebra-like short story (?prose poem?) by prize-winning author Lydia Davis. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Math and Poetry and Climate

Canadian poet Madhur Anand is also an Environmental Scientist; her love of nature and concerns for preserving a habitable climate pervade her work -- and she also scatters throughout it some mathematics.  You can imagine my delight when I found in her new collection (A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes) a poem (included below) that features the identity matrix.  Read on!

No Two Things Can Be More Equal    by Madhur Anand

In undergrad I learned about the identity 
matrix. Ones on the main diagonal and zeros 
elsewhere. Anything multiplied by it is itself. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The culture for women in math and the sciences

Perhaps the phrase "ordinary" women scientists is an oxymoron -- but it should not be.  Women should be free to populate the full range of aspiration and dedication to science or any other profession.   In this spirit, I offer below the opening lines of a thought-provoking poem, "Ordinary Women Scientists," by science writer and poet Mary Alexandra Agner, from the excellent and important anthology Raising Lilly Ledbetter:  Women Poets Occupy the Workspace.

     Here are links to several recent items about math-women:
Here is a report of a panel at Harvard discussing roles of women in mathematics. 
Here is a link to the Women in Maths Facebook page where visitors 
may post information and offer support for math women.
This link leads to my poem celebrating Emmy Noether.  Here we celebrate Caroline Herschel.
Here at is a place to find all sorts of math-links.

     from    Ordinary Women Scientists          by Mary Alexandra Agner       
                                                                                      for R.C.
      leave the lab late, flasks washed and waiting,
      computer on an overnight crunch job,
      warm dinner in the microwave
      while wondering at excited water molecules,
      wave their kids goodnight, grateful    

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Several friends have sent me links to the poem "Terror/Mathematics" by Zeina Hashem Beck -- written after the beheading of 21 Christian Egyptians in Libya in February 2015 and published online here in One Throne Magazine.  To illustrate the style (with some mathematical symbols) and the power of the poem I offer the first couple of stanzas below -- and invite you to go to the One Throne website for all seven stanzas.

from   Terror/Mathematics     by Zeina Hashem Beck

                   After the beheading of 21 Christian Egyptians in Libya, February 2015

Try calculated, think math.
Capture and + the numbers,
- the Muslims.  21 is what you are

left with, which is 3 x 7.  Any multiple of 3
is blasphemous, is  √all evil,
and we will / its neck open. 

Islam is an X
in an equation we never    . . .                  (You may go here for the rest . . . )

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Celebrating Ada Lovelace

Recently I have purchased the anthology, Raising Lilly Ledbetter:  Women Poets Occupying the Workplace (edited by Caroline Wright, M.L. Lyons & Eugenia Toledo, Lost Horse Press, 2015), and have found in it dozens of wonderful poems, including several that celebrate women of science.  Below I offer a poem by New York poet Jo Pitkin that honors Ada Lovelace (1815-1852).  

Bird, Moon, Engine     by Jo Pitkin

Like a fence or a wall to keep me from harm,
tutors circled me with logic, facts, theorems.
But I hid the weeds growing wild in my mind.

By age five, I could plot the arc of a rainbow.
I could explain perpendicular and parallel.
In my mind, I heard the wind in wild weeds. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Visual-mathematical poetry

      The poems that I write and most of the poems that I include in this blog use mathematical patterns to structure their lines and stanzas or mathematical terminology in their content -- but blogger Kaz Maslanka is a mathematical poet who does something different:  his creations involve mathematical operations and symbols as well as words.  For example, the following visual poem -- involving symbols for "equals" and "divided by" -- comes from a recent posting (in his blog, "Mathematical Poetry") of what Maslanka calls an orthogonal space poem.

"Winning" -- a visual poem by Kaz Maslanka in a form related to the formula for the area of a rectangle,  A = lw or, alternatively, w = A/l.  (Double-click on the image to enlarge it.)

During July 29-August 1, 2015, Kaz Maslanka and I both plan to participate 
in the BRIDGES Math-and-the-Arts Conference at the University of Baltimore -- 
sharing our poetry and enjoying the work of others.  
Join us if you can; no registration fee is required for Friday "Family Day" events 
which include a poetry reading.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Math fun with song lyrics

Song-writer Bill Calhoun is a faculty member in the Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics at Pennsylvania's Bloomsburg University (where I also hung out for many years). He belongs, along with colleagues Erik Wynters and Kevin Ferland, to a band called "The Derivatives."  And Bill has granted permission for me to include several of his math lyrics (parodies) here. (In this previous post, we consider the connection between song parodies and mathematical isomorphism.)  My first Calhoun selection deals with difficult mathematical questions concerning classification of infinite sets and decidability.  Following that, later lyrics consider proving theorems and finding derivatives.

Questions You Can’t Ever Decide*      by Bill Calhoun

(These lyrics match the tune of  "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by Lennon and McCartney.)

Picture yourself in  a world filled with numbers,
But the numbers are really just words in disguise.
Gödel says “How can you prove you’re consistent,
If you can’t tell that this is a lie?”    

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Things to Count On

Tomorrow is my mother's birthday.  Born in 1912, she has been gone for several years now -- and tomorrow my sons and I will travel to Indiana, Pennsylvania to visit her grave and the farmhouse where I grew up.  In honor of my mother, I post this poem (also posted on October 1, 2010) that enumerates ways that numbers were vital in my early life.

Things to Count On            by JoAnne Growney  

Monday, July 6, 2015

Counting Years -- in p'Bitek's Song of Lawino

Okot p'Bitek (1931-1982) was a Ugandan poet; one of his central concerns was that African literature should be built on African rather than European foundations.  His epic poem Song of Lawino (East African Publishing House, 1966) is a narrative poem written in the voice of Lawino who appeals to her husband Ocol to stay true to his own customs, and to abandon his desire to be white.  Here is a section of that poem that addresses a system for counting years.

from   Song of Lawino      by Okot p'Bitek

       Ocol tells me
       Things I cannot understand,      

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Voice Meant to be Spoken

     Last month the Library of Congress named a new poet laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, a Californian and Mexican-American whose work often involves oral performance  - as in “187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border,” (City Lights, 2007).  As I have learned about this poet I have found that I identify with his process,  "I write while I’m walking, on little scraps of paper,” he said.  (Wasn't walking also a writing strategy for William Wordsworth?)
     When I am introduced to the work of a new poet it has become my custom not only to enjoy her or his work but also to look for the ways that she or he uses mathematics.  The following poem is found, along with others by Herrera, at   

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sex, Maths, and the Brain

I found this poetry in an abstract (with a link posted at "Women in Maths" on Facebook) for a lecture by Professor Gina Rippon entitled "Sex, Maths, and the Brain" at Aston University in Birmingham, England, on 30 June 2015.  Enjoy!

Is there such a thing as a maths 
brain? Are mathematicians born 
or made?  Is the lack of girls 
in maths subjects 
a 'brain' problem?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Celebrating angles and rainbows . . .

 M A R R I A G E
       A     A
       T     Y  

And let me add a bit of mathematics -- for my friends (both gay and straight) who love to play with language:
           A recent New Yorker article  ("Go Ask Alice" by Anthony Lane, 6-8-15,48-54) 
          on Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) offered this quote -- this "found" poem:

            Obtuse anger
            is that which is greater
            than right anger.

This year, 2015, marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The power of eleven

One of my recent poetry acquisition treasures is Measure for Measure:  An Anthology of Poetic Meters, edited by Annie Finch and Alexandra Oliver (Everyman's Lbrary, 2015).  From a DC poet and friend, Paul Hopper, a few weeks ago I received comments about one of the sections of this collection  -- a section containing stanzas in hendecasyllabics, that is, in 11-syllable lines  Hopper has sent a sample quatrain of hendecasyllabics that points to "Into Melody" by Lewis Turco.  A bit of mathematical terminology is found in the opening lines of Peter Kline's "Hendecasyllabics for Robert Frost" -- and I offer these samples below.

Hopper's quatrain:

Someone should build a large dodecahedron,
with a poem in hendecasyllabics
on each pentagonal face except the base.
I'd start with this poem by Lewis Turco. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Found poetry -- Mary Cartwright

Recently I have been reading about mathematician Mary Cartwright (1900-1998) and working to develop a poem about her -- relying on a fine article/interview by my friend Jim Tattersall published in the The College Mathematics Journal (September 2001).  Her work on the foundations of chaos theory was prominently presented in a 2013 BBC News article.   A couple of days ago my acquisition of Rachel Swaby's book -- Headstrong Women:  52 Women Who Changed Science and the World  (Broadway Books, 2015) -- added to my information about Cartwright.  Here, from quotations offered by Tattersall and Swaby, are some of Cartwright's poetic words (reflecting on the ages and genders of mathematicians). First, speaking of her employment at Cambridge:

I regret to say that my impression 
when I began research was that, in general,
less qualified men were employed quite a lot, 

which eliminated some quite good women.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Uncertainty . . .

     Sometimes we find things of great value when we are looking for something else -- in fact, Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges has said, The best way to find a good thing is to go looking for something else . . .
     One of my recent stumbles (while looking for work by Borges) was onto the website of Robert Ronnow -- and I have found it a fun place to browse.  Here is a sample, a poem from his recent collection, The Scientific Way to Do Mathematics:

Uncertainty       by Robert Ronnow

                                                       --with a line by Pico Iyer

There cannot be two identical things in the world. Two
hydrogen atoms
offer infinite locations within their shells for electrons.
Thus, nothing can be definitely eventually known. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Seeing the NEWS in square stanzas

Reading today's Washington Post, a surprising statistic:

               Sharks don't kill
               as   many
               as cows do.
In the years 2001 to 2013 in the US an average of 20 deaths annually were caused by cows, 
compared with 1 during each of those years from sharks.

Also, Pope Francis has spoken out, expressing his concerns for our environment:

               Pope Francis,
               like me, sees
               climate change--

               a real

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Judith Grabiner and Howard Nemerov

     Last evening at the Distinguished Lecture Series sponsored by the MAA it was my privilege to hear an outstanding presentation by Judith Grabiner entitled "Space: Where Sufficient Reason Isn't Enough."  (I invite you to go to the MAA website to learn more about Grabiner and her talk.)
     Grabiner is a math-woman I have long admired and, after the lecture, while I was shaking her hand and thanking her for the excellent presentation, I took a moment to ask her if she had any favorite mathy poems.  Although surprised by my question she was able to cite Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet XLIII  that counts the ways of love -- a few lines of which are found here -- and the name Howard Nemerov, whom readers of this blog know is one of my favorite poets.
     You may scroll down to find Nemerov's "Magnitudes" (found also at and along with other work by this fine poet).  Poet Laureate of the United States during 1988-1990, Howard Nemerov  (1920-1991) served as a combat pilot during World War II and maintained a continuing interest in the stars and navigation.  Here are links to my earlier postings of poems by this favorite poet.

"Two Pair"      "Grace to Be Said at the Super Market"
"Lion and Honeycomb"     "Creation Myth on a Mobius Band"
"To David, About His Education"     "Found Poem"    "Figures of Thought"

And here, expressing concerns about our planet, is Nemerov's "Magnitudes":

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Imagine a Fractal

California poet Carol Dorf is also a math teacher and is poetry editor of the online journal TalkingWriting.  In the most recent issue of Talking-Writing is this fascinating poem by Brooklyn poet, Nicole Callihan, "How to Imagine a Fractal."  Enjoy Callihan's poetic play with recursion and infinite nesting -- be lulled by the back and forth of forever.

Carol Dorf's work has appeared in this blog:
and a poem about fear of math is posted here.

How to Imagine a Fractal     by Nicole Callihan 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Square stanzas for Women in Maths

in Maths --

it all
adds up.

     Go here for "It All Adds Up" -- a story in plus Magazine by Rachel Thomas about the recent Women in Maths conference sponsored by the London Mathematical Society.
     And if you know of POEMS that celebrate women in mathematics, please contact me (email address at bottom of blog) or post a link in the comments to this post.