Thursday, March 29, 2012

Celebrate Emmy Noether

     On 23 March 1882 mathematician Emmy Noether (pronounced NER-ter) was born.  On 23 March 2010  I posted the first entry in this blog -- an entry that included a poem, "My Dance Is Mathematics," I wrote to honor Emmy Noether; its final stanza is offered below.  On 27 March 2012, The New York Times published an article that features Noether -- "The Mighty Mathematician You've Never Heard Of."
     Take time today to learn about and to celebrate this not-well-enough-known and immensely talented mathematician

       Today, history books proclaim that Noether
       is the greatest mathematician
       her sex has produced. They say she was good
       for a woman.

I cannot post today without mentioning my sadness from learning of yesterday's passing of Adrienne Rich, a favorite poet who spoke eloquently and fearlessly of the struggles of women to be and to create. I am today in San Francisco visiting a daughter and her family and here, from the San Francisco Chronicle,  is a celebration of Rich's life, including the text of the poem of hers that I love most, "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Poems with Numbers

      Hats off to the organizers and presenters at the 2012 Split This Rock Poetry Festival held in DC this past weekend.  Great poets, great programs, fantastically good company all around!!!
      Saturday at the festival,  Denny Shaw and I led a panel-workshop, "Counting On," in which we encouraged poets to use numbers to illuminate their poems of witness and protest.  Our samples of vivid effects of numbers included:  "At Arlington" by Wiley Clements, "The Idea of Ancestry" by Etheridge Knight, "Numbers for the Week" by Joan Mazza, “On Ibrahim Balaban’s Painting ‘The Prison Gates’” by Nazim Hikmet, “The Stalin Epigram” by Osip Mandlestam, “Bosnia, Bosnia” by June Jordan, “The Terrorist:  He’s Watching” by Wislawa Szymborska, and “Four Five Six” by Rosemary Winslow.
     Poetry from our workshop participants will be posted here when it is gathered.  We focused on humanitarian and political concerns -- and used our workshop writing times to try for  poems that use numbers in their imagery.  Here are two samples from me (both syllable-squares).

     Our jails hold
     5 times more 
     blacks than whites.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Round     by  Russell Edson

      Where there is no shape there is round.  Round has no shape; no more than a raindrop or a human tear . . .
       And though the organs that focus the world are round, we have never been happy with roundness; how it allows no man to rest.  For in roundness there is no place to stop, since all places in roundness are the same.
     Thus the itch to square something.  To make a box.  To find proportion in a golden mean . . .

"Round" is found in The Tormented Mirror (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001).  This blog's posting for June 9, 2011, features another of Edson's prose poems.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Prayer of Numbers

     Whether our language is music or mathematics, computer code or cookery --  as we learn to love the language and treat it with good care, we find poetry.  Because mathematics is a concise language, with emphasis on placing the best words in the best order, it often is described by mathematicians and scientists as poetry.  Alternatively, and more accessible to most readers than poetic mathematics, we find verses by poets who include the objects and terminology of mathematics in their lines.
     One of my favorite poems of numbers is the portrait "Number Man," by Carl Sandburg (1878-1967),  found in The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg (Harcourt, 2003).  This poem also appears in Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics (A K Peters, 2008) -- a varied collection of math-related poems edited by Sarah Glaz and me.

     Number Man     by Carl Sandburg
          (for the ghost of Johann Sebastian Bach)

     He was born to wonder about numbers.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Illness and Time -- Counting on

One of life's special opportunities came to me ten years ago in Bucharest when I had the opportunity to meet poet Ileana Mălăncioiu and, along with my co-translator Doru Radu, enjoy a afternoon beer with her in a sunny cafe and talk of the opportunity of translating her collection Sora mea de dincolo / My Sister Beyond.  These fifty-four poems were written in response to the illness and eventual death of Mălăncioiu's sister;  the bilingual collection with our translations came out in 2003 (Paralela 45).  During the past year I have faced the critical illness of a family member and have, during this time, found Mălăncioiu's poems especially relevant.
     With university studies in philosophy (PhD) and experiences as journalist and editor, Mălăncioiu is a thoughtful observer who offers new best ways of seeing what is at hand.  Here is her "Forty Days."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Verses that count

At one finds a variety of information -- from the dates of the rapidly approaching 2012 Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC to divisibility rules for integers to a type of poetry called mathemetricsMathemetrical poetry has one topic: the length of the poem itself. Enjoy:

An example:

   This poem
   contains 14 words
   (if we count numerals
   as words) and 62 symbols.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chatting about REAL numbers

The term "real number" confuses many who are not immersed in mathematics.  For these, to whom 1, 2, 3 and the other counting numbers seem most real, the identification of the real numbers as all infinite decimals (i.e., all numbers representable by points on a number line) seems at first to go beyond intuition.  But, upon further reflection, the idea of a number as "real" iff it can represent a distance on a line to the right or left of a central origin, 0, indeed seems reasonable.
Professor Fred Richman of Florida Atlantic University takes on the questions of computability and enumerability of the real numbers in his poem, "Dialogue Between Machine and Man":

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mathematics in Romanian poetry

     When I first visited Romania, I met Doru Radu, then a teacher of English at Scoala Generala "Andre Muresanu" in Deva. And Doru introduced me to his favorite poet, George Bacovia (1881 - 1957). Over time, we together translated many of Bacovia's poems -- and the bilingual collection plumb de iarnă / lead of winter was published in 2002 (Ed., Gabriel Stanescu, Criterion Publishing). Recently I scrutinized that collection (no longer available in print, but here, online) to look for mathematical lines to post in this blog. Alas, Bacovia offers no more than a couple images from geometry: "alone in deserted squares" (in Pălind / Fading) and "the wide, oval mirror, framed with silver" (in Poemă în oglindă / Poem in the Mirror).
     Although Bacovia did not use mathematical imagery, a considerable number of Romanian poets do, and below I offer links to my earlier blog postings of work by Ion Barbu, Nina Cassian, Martin Sorescu, and Nichita Stanescu. Enjoy!  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Poetic Explorations of . . . Mathematicians

In the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics (Volume 1, Issue 2), we find "NumenRology: A Poetic Exploration of the Lives and Work of Famous Mathematicians" by Saskatchewan poet, Mari-Lou Rowley. In addition to the following poem, "On Diophantus Arithmetica," Rowley's JHM collection includes "Ode to Alan Turing" and "On Euclid’s Book VII – Elementary Number Theory: Proposition 8." Rowley's lines below wonderfully describe the emotional flow that comes with engaging in mathematics -- as mathematical terms are translated into the human terms of wanting and forthcoming, kneading, . . . and yielding.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Seeing Distance -- geometry in photography

One of my favorite poem-stanza styles is a syllable-square -- it distributes the weights of the words in a way that pleases me. The poem below has squares of several sizes and I post it as a prior-to-seeing-the-exhibit opposite to my response to photography currently displayed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum -- "Pilgrimage," by Annie Leibovitz. While many photographs, my own in particular, seem particularly flat, such was not the case with these. As if I were wearing special lenses, I was able to see and feel depth – not only in a view of Niagara Falls but also in the fabric and buttons of a dress that had belonged to Emily Dickinson.