Tuesday, July 17, 2012

An algorithm shapes a poem

Mathematics sometimes appears in poetry via patterns that follow the Fibonacci numbers. The pattern of Pascal's triangle also has been used.  In her intriguing collection, Do the Math  (Tupelo Press, 2008),  poet Emily Galvin (now also a California attorney) uses these and more.  Just as Euclid's Algorithm involves an interaction between two numbers, the following poem by Galvin applies the algorithm in a conversation between two voices.

Euclid's Algorithm    by Emily Galvin

These ten scenes happen on the blank stage.
A and B could be any two people, so long as
they've been together for longer than either
can remember.

O N E

A.

I love you.

B.

I know.

Pause

A.

What was that?
You know?  (Leaving) Oh.

B.

I know
So?  Oh.

T W O

A.

What am I going to do now?

B.

Don't know--the same?

Pause 

I don't know what to do now.
I can't keep going.  (Leaving) Still, probably will.

 B.

Are you all right?
What's the matter?  (Leaving)  Everyone--

A.

It's not them.
I just can't.

 . . .

E I G H T

A.

Well, are you coming with me?

B.

I don't know what I'm going to do.

Pause

A.
What do you think you're going to do?
Do you think you'll come over?  (Leaving)
Later on?

B.

I dunno if I'll come now.
Later on?  Later when?  We'll see.


These stanzas of "Euclid's Algorithm" are used with the permission of Tupelo Press.  For readers unfamiliar with the algorithm, Wikipedia offers comprehensive but perhaps too much information; this Rutgers site is a bit simpler -- and You-Tube shows several examples.   In short, this algorithm is a procedure that considers two positive integers and finds the largest integer that divides evenly into both of them.  In Galvin's stanzas above, the word count for each sentence is a number in the application of the algorithm.  The first two lines of each section establish the initial integers for which the greatest common divisor will be found.  And, after the pause, the algorithm is applied to the stated numbers.

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