Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bold women count

Last evening at a poetry reading at Kensington Row Bookshop, I read my poem about Sophia Kovalevsky (posted on June 24); hearing it out loud before an attentive audience helped me to sense a couple of edits I need to make.  Conversations after the reading drew my focus once again to bold women.  Mathematics has some of these women --  and wants more.  Here, in a poem with some numbers, Margaret Atwood celebrates a woman who is not only bold but who burns.  Many of Atwood's words apply to difficulties (including being misunderstood by men) faced by women in mathematics  -- women who have "talent / to peddle a thing so nebulous / and without material form." 

     Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing        by Margaret Atwood   

     The world is full of women
     who'd tell me I should be ashamed of myself
     if they had the chance. Quit dancing.
     Get some self-respect
     and a day job.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lincoln and Euclid -- common notions

     This afternoon I enjoyed the recently-released film, Lincoln -- appreciating Sally Fields as Mary Todd, Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens and (especially) Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. An absorbing drama -- inspiring and also informative.  With a slight mention of mathematics:  in a film conversation with two-young telegraph operators, Lincoln reflected on his study of Euclid and shared with the young men the first of Euclid's common notions:

     Things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Women Scientists in America

Gray,  is bold,
and female.  One of the founders
(one-nine-seven-one) of the Association for
Women in Mathematics and an attorney, a leader of our struggle to get
well-meaning men to confront the attitudes they inherited, to change -- so that "think
mathematically" does not mean the same as "think
like a man."  Mathematics has
myriad voices.
Hear all
us.                                   a Fibonacci poem by JoAnne Growney      

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thank you, Mary Gray

For today, Thanksgiving, I have wanted to prepare a special poetic tribute and thank-you to mathematician Mary Gray.  I have had yet not found time for complete preparation of that celebration.  But here are the opening words:  THANK YOU -- to a founder of  AWM (Association for Women in Mathematics) and a woman who has done much, much, much to further the opportunities and recognition for women in mathematics --  to Mary Gray.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A permutation puzzle -- the sestina

In a sestina, line-ending words are repeated in six six-line stanzas in a designated permutation of the words; the thirty-nine-line poem ends with a three-line “envoi” that includes all six of the line-ending words.  (After the first, a stanza's end-words take those of the preceding stanza and use them in this order:  the 6th, then the 1st, then the 5th, 2nd, 4th and, finally, the 3rd. In the envoi, two of the six words are used in each line.)  Here is a sestina by Lloyd Schwartz that uses only six words -- but its punctuation and italics cleverly shape variations of meaning. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Rearranging words . . .

     If we count all possible arrangements of 18 words, the total number of these is 18! (18-factorial) and equal to 6,402,373,705,728,000 -- a collection of word-permutations that would be a burden, rather than a joy, to contemplate.  (This previous posting offers some small lists of permutations for review.)
     Poet Darby Larson boldly experiments in his verse and in a 2009 posting (found months ago at but no longer there) I found these three stanzas -- three of the more-than-six-quadrillion possible arrangements of a particular list of eighteen words.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Finding fault with a sphere . . .

     On November 9 I had the pleasure (hosted by Irina Mitrea and Maria Lorenz) of talking ("Thirteen Ways that Math and Poetry Connect") with the Math Club at Temple University and, on November 5, I visited Marion Cohen's "Mathematics in Literature" class at Arcadia University.  THANKS for these good times.

          says THANK-YOU
          to all those students
          from Arcadia and Temple 
          who participated in "math-poetry" with me --
          who held forth with sonnets, pantoums,
          squares, snowballs, and Fibs --
          that rests

      My Temple host, Irina Mitrea, and I share something else besides being women who love mathematics -- the Romanian poet, Nichita Stanescu (1933-83), is a favorite for both of us.  My October 23 posting ("On the Life of Ptolemy") offered one of Sean Cotter's recently published translations of poems by Stanescu and below I include more Stanescu-via-Cotter -- namely, two of the ten sections of "An Argument with Euclid."  These stanzas illustrate Stanescu at his best -- irreverently using mathematical terminology and expressing articulate anger at seen and unseen powers of oppression.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Symmetry in poetry

In Euclidean Geometry, objects retain their size and shape during rigid motions (also called symmetries); one of these is translation -- movement of an object from one place to another along a straight line path.  Here are a few lines by Alberta poet Alice Major that explore the paths of rhyme as a sound moves to and fro within a poem :

     Rhyme's tiles slide
               from line
     to line, a not-so-rigid motion --
     a knitted, shifting symmetry
               that matches 'tree' 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Word Play -- "Of Time and the Line"

Charles Bernstein, poet and teacher,  experiments with poetry  and prefers "opaque" and "impermeable" writing -- to awaken readers "from the hypnosis of absorption."  In the poem below he does, as mathematicians also do, multiplies ideas by playing with them -- here using "line."

     Of Time and the Line     by Charles Bernstein

     George Burns likes to insist that he always
     takes the straight lines; the cigar in his mouth
     is a way of leaving space between the
     lines for a laugh.  He weaves lines together
     by means of a picaresque narrative;

Friday, November 2, 2012

Storm Sandy -- and climate change

     has caused more
     people to believe
     climate change is real and awful
     than the piles of statistics amassed by scientists --
     bad to worse since 1950  --
     ice caps melting, drought,
     sea levels

This poem of mine, with its syllables counted by successive Fibonacci numbers, is a slight revision of one posted on 31 August 2012.  That earlier posting also links to climate change data and to other  FIBS.