Showing posts with label counting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label counting. Show all posts

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mother Courage -- and speaking of opposites

     Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) was a poet, but I have not found mathematics in his poems.  Still, I want to note here a fantastic performance of his play, Mother Courage and her Children, starring Kathleen Turner and a talented ensemble at Washington,DC's Arena Stage.  Invited by my neighbors, Mitzi and Pati, I joined them yesterday for a riveting performance.   Here is a link to "How Fortunate the Man with None," a Brecht poem  heartily sung as "Solomon's Song" in the current musical production.
     And here, with a nod to the mathematical bent of this blog, is a quote from Brecht's Mother Courage that involves counting; also, it is one of many examples of a strategy that Brecht uses often and well -- encouraging an idea by speaking of its opposite. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Six Million

       Sometimes numbers become labels for particular events.  When I was growing up, all of us knew 1492 as a label for the discovery of America.  And 1941 recognized Pearl Harbor.  The following selection from a poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000) reminds us of the awful importance of 6 million
       While mentioning this poem of witness and remembering, I want also to remind you of the very special Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, to held in Washington, DC, March 27-30, 2014. (Early-bird registration ends on Valentine's Day, February 14th at midnight.)  Hope to see you there. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Amounting to Something

From the Fall/Winter 2013 issue of Poet Lore, a poem by David Wagoner about the arithmetic of expectations:

     Amounting to Something     by David Wagoner

     You were supposed to do that
     by saving yourself up
               like coins in a pig rescued
               just in time sometimes
     from in front of the candy counter  
     or the desk in the corridor

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Algebra cadabra

It was my good fortune to meet Colette Inez back in the early 1990s when she was poet-in-residence at Bucknell University. Then, as now, I was collecting poems-with-mathematics, and I have long loved this poem that weaves figuring into forests.

Forest Children     by Colette Inez

We heard swifts feeding in air,
sparrows ruffling dusty feathers,
a tapping on stones, mud, snow, pulp
when rain came down, the hiss of fire.
Counting bird eggs in a dome of twigs,
we heard trees fall and learned
to name them on a page for school. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Counting responses

At the Poetry Foundation website, poet Audre Lorde (1934-1992) is described thus:

               A self-styled "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," 
               writer Audre Lorde dedicated both her life 
               and her creative talent to confronting and addressing 
               the injustices of racism, sexism, and homophobia.

Here is a counting poem by this fine, bold poet:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Neruda speaks of numeration

The collection, Late and Posthumous Poems, 1968-1974 (Grove Press, 1988) by Chilean Nobelist Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) offers to readers a collection of Neruda's later work, ably translated by Ben Belitt.  Here is a poem that explores the vast world opened by the invention of numeration.

     28325674549     by Pablo Neruda

     A hand made the number.
     It joined one little stone
     to another, one thunderclap
     to another,
     one fallen eagle
     to another, one
     arrowhead to another,
     and then with the patience of granite
     the hand 
     made a double incision, two wounds,
     and two grooves:  and a
     number was born.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Nursery Rhyme Mathematics

During the last week of July I was in California, vacationing with family (including six of my grandchildren).  Most of these kids have grown past a fascination with nursery rhymes, but I still like them -- and think it's likely that memorization of rhymes helps with learning to read and count. 

Here is one of my favorites, "A Diller, a Dollar."

Friday, July 26, 2013

Another 17-word Haiku

If a poet uses only one-syllable words, the resulting Haiku is a bit longer than usual -- as in this Haiku in which the word lengths also follow an increase/decrease pattern, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1: 

I am the girl voice.
Drafts scribed -- thoughts stretched, smoothed, squared, sighed --
catch here now my I.

I have offered other 17-word Haiku in these postings -- 27 June 2013 and 16 July 2013 -- and the latter of these is my entry into the Haiku-to Mars contest.  To vote for that Haiku to be one of three sent to Mars by NASA on the Maven spacecraft next November, click here.  (Voting ends July 29.)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Poets at BRIDGES

These seven poets will be reading math-related poems at the upcoming (July 27-31) BRIDGES Conference in Enschede, the Netherlands; biographical information about the coordinator, Sarah Glaz, and each of the poets is available here. With each poet's name I have offer a date that is linked to one of my postings of his/her work:         
          Michael Bartholomew-Biggs    19 October 2012
          Tatiana Bonch-Osmolovskaya   10 March 2013
          Carol Dorf   31 May 2011
          Sarah Glaz   7 November 2011
          Emily Grosholz  24 September 2010
          Alice Major   30 December 2012
          Eveline Pye 12 April 2012
Here (and also to be offered at BRIDGES) is an elegant and thoughtful poem by Alice Major  -- "For Mary, Turning Sixty" -- that compares mathematical meanings of terms with personal ones. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Haiku to Mars -- select and vote

     Each of us may now (July 15 - 29) vote for one of the thousands of Haiku submitted to NASA's "Haiku for Mars" contest. Three top vote-getters will be selected for transmission to our red planet. I invite you to vote (at this link) for my entry. My contest Haiku also is shown below; it follows a particular number scheme -- formed from one-syllable words with word-lengths following this pattern: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.

I go for Mars, start
dreams -- flights straight, stretched, streamed, whirled bright.
Round bold red am I.

THANKS for your vote

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Counting on numbers

Alan Michael Parker's anthologized and highly regarded poem "Family Math" begins in the style of a typical word-problem from Algebra -- and continues with a weaving of the ways that numbers describe our lives.

Family Math     by Alan Michael Parker

I am more than half the age of my father,
who has lived more than twice as long
as his father, who died at thirty-six.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

17-word Haiku

     On 25 May 2013 this blog contained an announcement of NASA's Haiku-to-Mars contest.  The contest rules are here -- and July 1 is the deadline for submission.  Voting to select three favorite submissions will begin on July 15.  For my own submission I decided to use numerical constraints -- I limited my Haiku to one-syllable words and used an increasing-decreasing pattern of the lengths of words.  Here is an example (not the one I submitted, which begins "I go for Mars . . .").

A is the sign first
spread through thoughts –- stretched, breathed, squared, sighed.
Trace thru all to Z.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Count your things

     In the development of human culture, mathematics began with counting.  And so it also begins with each child as she/he grows.
     Someone said that a person is wealthy when she has more things than she can count.  Another view is that true wealth is having no need to count.  Whether or not either is is correct, we can appreciate "My/My/My" by poet Charles Bernstein (begun below and completed at

My/My/My        by Charles Bernstein   

          Count these number of things you call mine. This is the distance between
          you and enlightenment.                                 —Swami Satchidananda

                        (for Jenny)

my pillow

my shirt

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Counting the seconds . . .

During these difficult days of fear and explosions -- in Boston and West, Texas and where next? -- I have turned to my copy of View with a Grain of Sand (Harcourt Brace, 1993) by Polish Nobelist Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012) to find "The Terrorist, He's Watching."  Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanaugh, this moving poem of numbers and tension also appears in Szymborska's 1976 collection, A Large Number

The Terrorist, He’s Watching     by Wislawa Szymborska

The bomb in the bar will explode at thirteen twenty.
Now it’s just thirteen sixteen.
There’s still time for some to go in,
and some to come out.  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Marianne Moore -- counting syllables

     Currently (until 28 April, 2013) at the National Portrait Gallery is an exhibit of video and audio portraits of a selection of American Poets -- browsing on the gallery's website I found here today (and related to the exhibit) a recording Marianne Moore's "Bird-Witted."
     Marianne Moore (1887-1972) was one of my first-loves in poetry.  Her line in "Poetry" about presenting for inspection "imaginary gardens with real toads in them" became my goal also.  And when I discovered that her poems frequently were constructed by counting syllables I began to consider that strategy.  These opening stanzas of "The Fish," found in its entirety at, illustrate Moore's interesting stanza-designs based on syllable-count-patterns.

              The Fish     by Marianne Moore   

1            wade
3            through black jade.
9                 Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
6                 adjusting the ash-heaps; 

8 or 9                opening and shutting itself like

Friday, February 22, 2013

Counting for Freedom -- the Amistad trials

     Josiah Willard Gibbs (Jr, 1839 – 1903) was an American scientist who made important theoretical contributions to physics, chemistry, and mathematics.  His father, Josiah Willard Gibbs, Sr (1790 - 1861) was an American linguist and theologian, who served as professor of sacred literature at Yale University.  Although the son is well-known in scientific circles, it is the father who interests us here -- he is the subject of a poem by New York poet Stephanie Strickland.
     The senior Gibbs was an active abolitionist and he played an important role in the Amistad trials of 1839–40. By visiting the African passengers in jail, he was able to learn to count to ten in their language, and he then searched until he located a sailor, James Covey, who recognized the words --the language was Mende -- and was able to serve as an interpreter for the Africans during their subsequent trial for mutiny. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Hilary Tham -- Counting a life

     Several of my friends speak with reverent admiration of Hilary Tham (1946  -2005),  noted Washington, DC-area poet, teacher, and painter (whom I never met, for she died a few weeks after I moved south from Pennsylvania).  Born in Malaysia, Tham came to this country as the bride of a man she had met as a Peace Corps volunteer.  In her book-length poem, Counting, Tham's poetic voice interprets her journey from Malaysia to New Jersey to Arlington, from Buddhism to Christianity to Judaism, from beginnings to explorations, from arrivals and departures to blessings.  Here, from Counting, is the opening poem. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Baker's Dozen -- in Takoma Park

This evening I had the privilege of being part of a poetry reading at the Takoma Park Community Center  -- one of four featured poets, I was the "mathematical" one and read several poems that involved counting -- counting in their subject matter or in their structural design.  Here is a villanelle that I composed for the occasion.

A Baker’s Dozen     by JoAnne Growney

Counting likes to start with number one.
A luscious mate to pair with one makes two –-
and three can be a triangle of fun.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Counting the dead

This poem by Joan Mazza heightens the impact of war-data by bringing it into the kitchen and the office -- juxtaposing war-numbers with the events of a pleasant day in central Virginia.  

Numbers for the Week       by Joan Mazza

This morning, it was twenty-eight degrees. I photographed
red oak leaves rimed with frost. I made chicken soup, canned
ten pint jars in the pressure cooker at fifteen pounds of pressure
for seventy-five minutes. On the stump near the compost pile,
I left the skin of fourteen chicken thighs for crows and woodpeckers.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Taking Stock

Developing an inventory -- of what we have or have experienced, of what we see or imagine -- inevitably involves numbers and counting.  As in "Inventory" by Canadian poet Colin Morton, an adaptation or "free translation" of  "Inventaire" by Jacques Prevert.  Morton has a strong connection to mathematics --  his son is a mathematician at the Technical University of Lisbon.

  Inventory       by Colin Morton

  one lump of rock
  two houses
  three ruined foundations
  four gravediggers
  one garden
  some flowers