Sunday, February 27, 2011

Immense polygons of evening

Sometimes one wonderful line makes me fall in love with a poem. I offer the following -- in which the title first draws me in and then "immense polygons of evening" delights me even more.  Here, by Paula Closson Buck, is "A Betrayal of Integers," which uses mathematical terminology as the perfect mix of seasonings for a gourmet dish. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Counting rhymes -- Catalan, Bell numbers

     In mathematics, the Catalan numbers (named for Belgian mathematician Eugène Charles Catalan, 1814–1894, and beginning with 1, 1, 2, 5, 14, 42, 132, 429, . . . ) and the Bell numbers (named for the Scottish mathematician Eric Temple Bell, 1883-1960, and beginning with 1, 1, 2, 5, 15, 52, 203, 877,  . . . ),  provide answers to a variety of mathematical counting-problems, including counting the number of rhyme schemes for stanzas of poetry.  In English, earliest classification of rhyme schemes dates back to George Puttenham and his treatise, The Arte of English Poesie (published around 1590). 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Poems of set paradox and spatial dimension

Universal Paradox     by Sandra DeLozier Coleman

     One gigantic set made of all that there is
     Boggles the mind with paradoxes.
     For it is greater than all, but smaller than this —
     The set which consists of the subsets of it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Black History Month -- celebrate Haynes and Hughes

Living on the border of Washington DC I am exposed to items of local history for our nation's capital.  One such item involves the "discovery" of Langston Hughes (1902-1967) by poet Vachel Lindsay (1879 - 1931) at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, a leading conference hotel in the city.   A second story is a mathematical one.  Martha Euphnemia Lofton Haynes (1890-1980), a fourth-generation Washingtonian, was the first black woman to earn a PhD in mathematics -- conferred in 1943 by Catholic University. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Srinivasa Ramanujan

One of the most intriguing tales in the modern history of mathematics involves Indian-born mathematician and genius Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920) who traveled to England to work with G H Hardy (1877-1947).  Poet Jonathan Holden, who writes often of matters mathematical, offers this portrait of the Indian prodigy: 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thinking about Thinking

The question of what it means to think is never far from my focus -- and is particularly on my mind during these days that the computer Watson is competing on the TV game show, Jeopardy.   Here is a poem I like a lot -- "New Math" by Cole Swensen  -- in which the poet (writing more than 20 years ago) considers the limits of computation (and whether it could aid persons unable to recognize faces). 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Puzzles, puzzlers, and parody

     For lots of fun, go to plus online magazine at this link to find a poem that requires a knight's tour of a chess board for you to unscramble its words and read its eight lines.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Loving a mathematician (Valentine's Day and . . . )

A perfect way to celebrate Valentine's Day -- especially for you who enjoy mathematics --  read (aloud and to each other) some "poems of love and mathematics." Such is easily possible, for the anthology, Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics (A K Peters, 2008), edited by Sarah Glaz and me, contains words on the topic by more than 150 poetic voices.  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dividing by Zero

Fairy godmothers have their magic wands and mathematician have division by zero as a way to make the impossible happen -- for example, we can show that 2 equals 3:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How much math does a math-poem need?

Poems offered in this blog vary in the levels of mathematics they contain.  One mathematical reader commented privately that in some of the poems the use of mathematical terms is "purely decorative."  Indeed, some people have particular expectations for poetry that relates to mathematics -- they want the content to use mathematical notation or to present a mathematical truth. Such as, perhaps, this abbreviated statement of the four-color theorem (formulated as a 4x4 square): 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Electronic poetry -- Stephanie Strickland

     Computers offer new opportunities for poetry -- permitting new types of poems.  Animated perhaps, or hypertext, or vast manuscripts of which we can see at most a fragment -- the possibilities are many.  Stephanie Strickland is one of the pioneers of electronic literature -- and this post was sparked by my experiences at her presentations at Georgetown University on February 1.  

Friday, February 4, 2011

AWP avoids mathematics

I am currently attending the 2011 AWP* Conference and am disappointed that none of the sessions involves connections of writing with mathematics -- this disappointment has prodded me to write the Fib that I include below. (Recall that a Fib is a poem whose successive line-syllable counts follow the **Fibonacci seqence -- the numbers that count the petals on a flower, the spirals of seedheads on a pine cone or pineapple, and many other natural things.) 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Painting tragedy with numbers

Although words such as "massacre" and "victim" and "buried" help us to understand the effects of disaster and injustice, sometimes the most vivid descriptions of horrific events are painted with numbers -- 6 million slain, 4-year-old girl raped, 11 days without food.   One of the strong poetic voices of the twentieth century was June Jordan (1936-2002).  Works in her collection, Kissing God Goodbye  (Anchor Books, 1997), speak out for all victims, in Baghdad or Belfast, in Lebanon or Algeria.  In the following poem from that 1997 collection, Jordan uses numbers to heighten her portrayal of tragedy in Bosnia.