Friday, April 9, 2010

April: along with baseball we celebrate poetry and mathematics

Is it coincidence or design that

     April  is  National Poetry Month

   April  is  Mathematics Awareness Month
          (This year's theme is  "mathematics and sports")

In my own reading, baseball is the sport for which I have found the most poetry.

For example, there is Yankee fan Marianne Moore's poem Baseball and Writing  (suggested, the poet noted, by post-game broadcasts).  Matching the counting in baseball with the counting of syllables, Moore's poem involves lots numbers.  She has seven 12-line stanzas.  The first lines of each stanza  have 12 syllables (except for stanzas 5 and 6 which have 11 and 13), the second lines have 7 or 8 syllables, . . . the final lines have 8 or 9 syllables. Moore also uses varied indentation to give her stanzas a particular shape--and all stanzas have the same shape.   Moore's poem begins:

Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
   You can never tell with either
      how it will go
      or what you will do;
   generating excitement--
   a fever in the victim--
   pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter.
            Victim in what category?
Owlman watching from the press box?
            To whom does it apply?
            Who is excited? Might it be I?
  . . .

     Specifying a syllable count for each line yields a form of poetry known as syllabic verse.  Marianne Moore (1877-1972) and Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)  are among the 20th Century poets with whom this style was popular.  It is more common in Japanese (for example, Haiku) and French (which are termed "syllable-timed languages") than in English, where verse more often focuses primarily on stressed (accented) syllables.  In my own work, I have experimented with SQUARE poems--in which the number of syllables in each line is the same as the number of lines.
     Ernest Lawrence Thayer's well-known ballad Casey at the Bat makes liberal use of numbers in its first stanza; this and a host of other baseball poems are available at the Baseball Almanac website.

     By using #39 as title for a poem about Roy Campanella, poet Jerry Wemple reminds us how a player’s number can be more than a label—indeed, a name. Here, in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th stanzas of Wemple’s poem (You Can See It from Here, Lotus Press, 2000) are some of the numbers that affected the ball-player's life:

     Campy rising at 1 a.m. to deliver milk
     And two blocks' worth of papers.
     Campy who had three grown men pull up

     In a white Caddy convertible,
     Pay his momma three times
     Daddy's weekly wage to let him

     Catch games on the weekend.
     Campy who quit school at 15, Spent ten
     Years squatting in the Negro leagues, . . .

The full text of Wemple's poem appears in Broken Land;  Poems of Brooklyn.

A thought from Robert Frost:    
     Poets are like baseball pitchers.  
     Both have their moments.  The intervals are the tough things. 

A challenge for YOU, on this April day -- 
write (and post) a limerick of baseball and mathematics. 

AND, for MORE mathematical limericks visit the March 29 posting.


  1. In baseball the diamonds are square--
    And the ball has the shape of a sphere.
    Nine guys make a team--
    So, two teams make eighteen--
    And fans cheer when plays come in pairs.

  2. What a great limerick! I'm a math teacher and would love to share it with my 4th-8th graders... may I give you the credit for writing it, Joanne? Happy Math Awareness Month!

  3. Yes, Kristen, the limerick is mine--please share it and invite your students to create more!

  4. For more limericks see the March 29 entry, "Mathematical" Limericks.

  5. I love the limerick about Trinity Hall. I'm going to share it as a "Problem of the Week" for my algebra students who can solve the equation by factoring. What a wonderful blog! I'm really enjoying your creativity! I loved the to-the-point-and-so-true poem, "Misunderstanding" from your book, My Dance With Mathematics. Thank you again for sharing!