Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Conditional statements

The "If ... , then ... ." statements of mathematical theorems are often termed "conditionals." We have, for example, the conditional, "If x < 3, then x² < 9."  And so on.  Formal conditional statements in a poem can give it the feel of mathematics, even if no mathematical terminology is used.  This is  illustrated in "Omens" by the Romanian poet Marin Sorescu (1936-1996); Sorescu's poem also treats us to word-play  -- with allusions that range from nursery rhymes to religious narratives. 

    Omens     by Marin Sorescu  (Trans. Michael Hamburger)

     If you meet a chair,
     that is good, you will go to Heaven.
     If you meet a mountain,
     that is bad, you’ll go to the chair.
     If you meet the Great Bear,
     that is good, you will go to Heaven.
     If you meet a snail,
     that is bad, you’ll go to the snail.
     If you meet a woman,
     that is good, you will go to Heaven.
     If you meet a tablecloth,
     that is bad, you will go to the cupboard.
     If you meet a snake,
     that is good, it will die and you’ll go to Heaven.
     If the snake meets you,
     that is bad, you will die and the snake go to Heaven.

If you die,
     that’s bad, bad.

     Beware of this omen
     and of all others.

“Omens” is in Selected Poems  (Bloodaxe Books, 1983) by Marin Sorescu, translated by Michael Hamburger. See also the 4 October 2010 posting for Sorescu's "The Reckoning."

Here, next, is a poem of mine -- also a series of conditionals:

     Conditionals     by JoAnne Growney

     If you take a rose with petals curled
     and put it in a vase beside the clock
     that has no hands, someone you thought
     was lost returns for morning tea.

     If you push hard against your belly wall
     and square your shoulders while no one
     watches from the pines, you hear
     your sister's whisper in distant highway noise.

     If you slowly peel an orange after noon
     and pluck tomatoes by the quarter moon,
     you see beyond obsession to details.

     If you walk the river's edge to pick up stones
     and pile them to mark a place, tomorrow’s dawn
     shines bright upon your broken fingernails.

"Conditionals" appears in my collection Red Has No Reason (Plain View Press, 2010).

1 comment:

  1. I like these - in fact one could create a whole poetic movement based on conditionals. Personally I find it to have much more value than Oulipo – Here is a conditional for you: If you find define stochastic elements to be important then you have crippled your ability to be expressive.