Monday, February 6, 2023

Remembering Linda Pastan

     On January 30, the wonderful and versatile poet, Linda Pastan (1932-2023) died.  Here at the Poetry Foundation website is a brief bio of Pastan along with ninety-six of her poems -- including the mathy poems "Arithmetic Lesson: Infinity" and "Counting Backwards".   This link leads to previous mentions of Pastan and her work in tis blog.  And below, one of my favorites of her poems, "Algebra" -- which I also posted at this link back in November, 2013.

Algebra     by Linda Pastan

        I used to solve equations easily.
        If train A left Sioux Falls
        at nine o'clock, traveling
        at a fixed rate,
        I knew when it would meet train B.
        Now I wonder if the trains will crash;
        or else I picture naked limbs
        through Pullman windows, each
        a small vignette of longing.   

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Celebrate Groundhog Day!

      Since my days as a girl on a farm near the town of Indiana, Pennsylvania -- not far from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania -- I have long been familiar with Groundhog Day.  Here is a link that you can use to browse this blog's celebrations and memories of  this special holiday.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Daughters Can Also Be Heroic . . .

     A recent online Cultural Collective article featured the Chinese astronomer -- and mathematician and poet -- Wang Zhenyi (1768-1797) in an article entitled, "The Woman Genius Who Surpassed Da Vinci and History Forgot."   Although her poetry was mentioned, no samples were included -- here is a link to a stanza of hers that I posted back in February 2021 (a stanza that includes the title of this posting).  

     A well-known Qing dynasty scholar, Yuan Mei, commented on Wang’s poetry by saying it “had the flavor of a great pen, not of a female poet.”  Her poetry included her understanding of classics and history and experiences during her travels -- items such as scenery and the lives of those with whom she made acquaintances.   Here is a sample -- one of several of Zhenyi's poetic stanzas in Wikipedia:

       Transiting Tong Pass      by Wang Zhenyi

            So important is the doorway,
            occupying the throat of the mountain
            Looking down from the heaven,
            The sun sees Yellow river streaming.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Remembering Charles Simic

       Recently Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and former US poet laureate (2007-2008) Charles Simic has died.  Although Simic's poems were seldom mathy, he spoke as mathematicians do -- with precision and purpose.  Below I offer again one of his poems that speaks of Euclid (previously posted back in 2011). 

       The Chair     by Charles Simic

       The chair was once a student of Euclid.

       The book of its laws lay on its seat.
       The schoolhouse windows were open,
       So the wind turned the pages
       Whispering the glorious proofs.

       The sun set over the golden roofs.
       Everywhere the shadows lengthened,
       But Euclid kept quiet about that.

"The Chair" is found in Simic's collection Hotel Imsomnia (HBJ, 1992).  This link leads to a list of previous blog postings that feature Simic.   Here is a link to that features lots of Simic's poems and here at are lots more.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

A mathy poem from artificial intelligence

     A recent Facebook posting by Maryland poet and computer programmer Henry Crawford included a poem written by a robot -- and he shared with me the link for BETA.OPENAI.COM -- a free site, but one requiring the opening of an account.  I did that -- and began to explore.  Here is a screenshot of one of the results -- from when I entered the request "Write a poem using math words".

A poem composed by AI

Lots of additional information about AI is available in a free article/editorial (about ChatGPT)  by Gizem Karaali entitled "Artificial Intelligence, Basic Skills, and Quantitative Literacy" -- available at this link.  And here is a link to an interesting and related article in the NY Times, "How Smart Are the Robots Getting?" 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Poetry in Politics

      Numerical or alphabetical constraints often are used by writers to add shape and impact to their writing -- and such was the case in a recent speech by Hakeem Jeffries, New York Congressman and Democratic leader of the House of Representatives as he spoke on January 7 ;  Jeffries' speech went through the alphabet -- poetically directing his colleagues toward American Values instead of Autocracy, Benevolence over Bigotry . . . . all the way to Zealous Representation over Zero Sum Confrontation.  A wonderful illustration of the value of constraints in shaping ideas!

Create an abecedarian poem of your own: 
perhaps for a Valentine --
or to celebrate the coming of spring!

Here is a link to previous instances of abecedarian in this blog -- and below is a sample, my  abecedarian portrait of a mathematician.

Monday, January 16, 2023

A Lecture on the Cube

     Summer weeks spent teaching English to Romanian students have helped me to learn of several of the country's fine poets and to get involved in a bit of translating.  Romanian mathematics professor, Gabriel Prajitura (now at SUNY Brockport) -- whom I first met at Pennsylvania's Bucknell University when I was teaching nearby at Bloomsburg University -- worked with me to translate several mathy poems by Nichita Stanescu (1933-1983).  The Summer/Autumn 2004 issue of Circumference:  Poetry in Translation included "A lecture on the cube" and "A lecture on the circle."  My blog posting on April 18, 2014 -- available at this link -- shares "A lecture on the circle" -- and I offer the other below:

     A lecture on the cube     by Nichita Stanescu

        You take a piece of stone,
        chisel it with blood,
        grind it with Homer’s eye,
        burnish it with beams
        until the cube comes out perfect.       

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Mathematics Sets Sail . . .

     Each time I open a new issue of Scientific American I am delighted to turn to "Meter", a poetry feature begun in 2020 and edited by longtime science writer, Dava Sobel.  One of my early favorites in "Meter" (found here in the February, 2020 issue) is "Mathematical Glossolalia" by Jennifer Gresham -- and Gresham has given me permission to include the poem here:

     Mathematical Glossolalia     by Jennifer Gresham

     As though time could have a hobby
     we speak in eigenvalues, the harmonious
     oscillations in the green flash before sunset.

     We interpret raised to the power to mean
     you were taken in by numbers
     as a young babe & your childhood

     can be classified irrational. Euclid,
     Euler, the empty set's a nest atop a piling.
     If two words diverge on the open seas &

     the dot product is without derivative, the intercept
     can be found only by Venn diagrams on the tongue.
     Swallowed by wave functions, turning back, theorems

     to explain the circumference of illusion, good heavens,
     the sailboat's isosceles never goes slack.

Jen Gresham is founder of Work for Humanity; she has a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Maryland.  "Mathematical Glossolalia" is from her 2005 collection, Diary of a Cell, winner of the Steel Toe Books poetry prize, is available hereAt this link, a bit of background about the word "glossolalia".

Monday, January 9, 2023

Applied Mathematics -- in Spoken Word Poetry

     Lots of mathy poems are available on YouTube -- for example, recordings by poetry participants in Bridges Math-Arts conferences are available;  here is a link to a webpage (maintained by Sarah Glaz) for 2022 Bridges poets and poems .  Today I have been fascinated by and want to share some words from an Applied Mathematics YouTube video by spoken word poet Dan Simpson, a UK writer, performer, producer, and educator.  A few lines from the poem appear below, followed by a link to the video performance.

I love the curvature of your wave form the way you deviate from the norm .  . .  when we touch it's an electric storm . . .  if you were described by numbers they would all be trying this but like Heisenberg you're uncertain  . . .  this verse is in a language that you can understand bringing maths and poetry together in double helix sounds . . .  statistically speaking I'll make you laugh sooner or later . . .

     Dan Simpson's complete and very entertaining YouTube performance of Applied Mathematics is available here.  Other mentions in this blog of Dan's poem and other YouTube recordings may be found at this link.

Friday, January 6, 2023

AMS 2023 Math-Poetry Contest Winners

     This week, January 4-7, in Boston MA, more than a dozen national mathematics organizations are holding national meetings -- at a conference called the Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM).  This gathering includes a math-art exhibit and the celebration of winning poems in an math-poetry contest for students (sponsored by AMS, the American Mathematical Society).  The picture below is a portion of a poster that celebrates and publicizes the winning poems,  (The complete poems are available here at the AMS website.)

This is the top section of a poster of AMS 2023 winning mathy poems.

Monday, January 2, 2023

Celebrate the life of John Sims

      These days I am celebrating the life -- and mourning the passage -- of mathy-artist-writer and fighter for human rights, John Sims, who died last month of a heart attack at the young age of 54.  Here are three of the many headlines (with links to articles) that celebrate his life and mourn his death.  (I encourage readers also to search online for "John Sims" to learn more about his many, many ventures and achievements.}

From the Sarasota Herald-TribuneJohn Sims, Sarasota-based conceptual artist and former Ringling professor, dies at 54

From ArtReview, John Sims, artist who confronted American racism has died

From Sarasota Magazine, Remembering Sarasota Artist John Sims  . . . "Sims, who died earlier this week, spent decades producing provocative art that touched on racism, mathematics and much more . . ."

From WUSF Public Media, John Sims, prominent Sarasota artist and former Ringling instructor, dies at 54

I first met John Sims early in 2010 at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City.  He was poet-in-residence there and had invited mathy poets and artists to participate in a Sims project called  "Rhythm of Structure."   A booklet featuring exhibit items -- with a varied selection of poetry and art, by Sims and others (including a poem by me) -- is available online here.  Here is the cover with images of visual poetry by Sims.    

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Ending the Year with Gratitude -- for Teachers!

     During his time as Poet Laureate of the United States, Billy Collins created Poetry 180 -- a project designed to encourage students to engage with poetry but providing a poem (accessible for high school students) for each of the 180 days of the school year.  Each week in my email, I get a message with links to five of these poems; one of the recent ones (poem 72, given below) has reminded me about the importance of teachers in my life -- teachers of poetry AND teachers of mathematics -- in shaping my learning and my personhood.   Here is  "Gratitude to Old Teachers" by Robert Bly:

   Poem 072: Gratitude to Old Teachers    by Robert Bly

          When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
          We place our feet where they have never been.
          We walk upon the unwalked. But we are uneasy.
          Who is down there but our old teachers?

          Water that once could take no human weight—
          We were students then—holds up our feet,
          And goes on ahead of us for a mile.
          Beneath us the teachers, and around us the stillness.

Bly's poem is from his collection, Eating the Honey of Words, (HarperCollins, NY, 1999).  Its presentation in Poetry 180 may be found at this link

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

A Cone with a Sphere on top

      The phrase used as title for this post, "A cone with a sphere on top" -- from a slightly-mathy poem by Katharine O'Brien (1901-1986), "Einstein and the Ice Cream Cone" -- has caused me to visualize a Christmas tree and so, in this holiday season, I offer it to you.  Enjoy!  And Happy Holidays!

     Einstein and the Ice Cream Cone     by Katharine O'Brien

     His first day at Princeton, the legend goes,
     he went for a stroll (in his rumpled clothes).
     He entered a coffee shop --- moment of doubt --
     then climbed on a stool and looked about.
     Beside him, a frosh, likewise strange and alone,
     consoling himself with an ice cream cone.   

Monday, December 19, 2022

Counting On . . .

     I was the oldest, the "responsible" one -- when I wanted to sleep in, my mother said, "Your father -- and our farm -- are counting on you."  Here is a bit of my poetic reaction:


        Two   two
        Three   three   three
        Four   four   four   four
        Five   five   five   five   five
        That's how it was growing --
        growing up
        on the farm
        milking cows
        gathering eggs
        scattering grains of corn
        for hens --
        counting   counting   counting . . .
        counting on.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Patterns of the Wind

     Sometimes a poem contains just a sample of mathematics -- but a very memorable one.   Such is the case with "I Like the Wind" by Robert Wrigley in the 6 September 2010 issue of The New Yorker.  I offer below its opening lines.

       We are at or near that approximate line
       where a stiff breeze becomes
       or lapses from a considerable wind,
       and I like it here, the chimney smokes
       right-angled from west to east but still
       for brief intact stretches
       the plush animal tails of their fires. 

Monday, December 12, 2022

Short Poems

         Poetry, like mathematics, uses condensed language -- often saying quite a lot in just a few symbols.

          POEM     by Aram Saroyan 

          One two
          three there
          are three are
          never seen
          again.                 (from Complete Minimal Poems, Ugly Duckling Press, 2007)

          REFLECTIONS ON AN AMISH CHILDHOOD    by Billy Collins 

          I was
          a little square
          in a round hat.              (from Musical Tables,  Random House, 2022)

This link leads to a previous blog posting with a short (14 syllables) poem of mine AND
with links to poems celebrating five female mathematicians.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Writing -- a Path toward Knowing

     Advice for my grandchildren -- in the form of a Fib.  (Wish I had remembered to give it on November 23 -- which is Fibonacci day. ) 
    1            When
    1            I
    2            want to
    3            understand
    5            something difficult
    8            I grab my pen, write about it.

     I'm not sure when I made the discovery but by the time I was in graduate school  I knew that my learning pattern involved my fingers and my pen.  I copied definitions into a notebook, sometimes trying to rephrase them in my own words.  I elaborated the proofs of theorems . . . my fingers helped me remember.

November 23 is celebrated as Fibonacci day because when the date is written in the mm/dd format (11/23), the digits in the date form a Fibonacci sequence: 1,1,2,3. A Fibonacci sequence is a series of numbers where a number is the sum of the two numbers before it.  A Fib is a tiny poem whose lines have as syllable-counts the first 6 Fibonacci numbers.  

For more Fibonacci-related poems, follow this link

Monday, December 5, 2022

All Together -- Humor, Math, Poetry

     Blogger and teacher Sue VanHattum (blogger at Math Mama Writes) has been a frequent and valuable contributor to this blog -- find stuff at this link -- and Sue has recently alerted me to a poetic posting that she found on Facebook -- written and drawn by artist-illustrator (and orthodontist) Grant Snider whose pithy and entertaining words and pictures are found at the website Incidental Comics.  Here is the opening portion of that visual-comic-poetic posting:

Opening lines of a visual poem by Grant Snider

Snider's complete "How To Be a Triangle" is found in Incidental Comics at this link.  Another recent posting -- "How to be a circle" -- is found at this link.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Poetry of Mathematics--David Eugene Smith, 1926

      Recently poetry-fan and occasional versifier Greg Coxson, a Research Engineer in the Department  Electrical and Computer Engineering at the US Naval Academy, sent me a link to an essay by mathematician and teacher David Eugene Smith (1869-1944) -- published in The Mathematics Teacher in 1926 and entitled THE POETRY OF MATHEMATICS.  Greg has been, over the years of this blog, a valuable contributor of information about mathy poems and poets -- and some poetry of his own.

     Early in the essay, Smith quotes Thoreau:

We have heard much about the poetry of mathematics, but very little of it has yet been sung.  The ancients had a juster notion of their poetic value than we.  The most distinct and beautiful statements of any truth must take at last the mathematical form. 

     Lots of quotes and viewpoints are offered in Smith's essay and, at the end he speaks of the role of teachers " . . .  mathematics may become and does become poetry in the enthusiasm of an inspired and an inspiring teacher."

The Secret Sits     by Robert Frost (1874-1963)

               We dance round in a ring and suppose,
               But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

Lots more of Frost's words are available here.

Monday, November 28, 2022

The Geometry of Gerrymandering

gerrymandering: the practice of dividing or arranging 
a territorial unit into election districts in a way 
that gives one political party an unfair advantage in elections

       A recent Scientific American article by Manon Bischoff, "Geometry Reveals the Tricks Behind Gerrymandering," has reminded me of the horrors of this practice.  To express my thoughts about a particular concept, often a stanza that matches mathematical constraints helps me to carefully consider word choices and attempt clear and concise expression. The following syllable-square is a start toward expressing my point of view:

          For fair elections
          voting districts must
          be proportional,
          not maneuvered by

This Scientific American author Manon Bischoff is an editor at Spektrum der Wissenschaft. She primarily covers mathematics and computer science and writes the column The Fabulous World of Mathematics. Bischoff studied physics at Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany and then worked as a research assistant at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Trying a Tritina

      Writer and scholar Marian Christie (born in Zimbabwe and now in Kent, England) has had a long term interest in mathematics and poetry and, during the last several years, she has created a blog -- Poetry and Mathematics -- in which she explores, with careful detail, some interesting and important links between these two arts.

     Christie's work has been featured several times in this blog and my posting today shows my attempt to learn from one of her postings.  At this link, on July 13, 2022, Christie posted "Turning in Circles -- the Tritina" and I have used her posting to learn the requirements for a tritina and, then, to try to write one.

     A tritina consists of ten lines -- three three-line stanzas with a final, separate line.  The stanzas have the same three end-words, rotated in the sequence 123, 312, 231, and a single final line containing all three end-words. 

     I have tried to write a tritina and offer my example below -- not because it is good but because it explores a pattern that I think might work well for students trying to write a poem in a math class.     

ARE THINGS DIFFERENT NOW IN SCHOOL?     a sample tritina     

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Student Essay Contest -- Write about a Math-Woman

 Essay Contest -- Sponsored by AWM and Math for America

     Each year the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) and Math for America  co-sponsor a contest for essays written about the lives and works of contemporary women mathematicians and statisticians in academic, industrial, and government careers. 

     Each essay should be based primarily on an interview with a woman currently working in or retired from a mathematical sciences career. Participation is open to three groups -- middle school, high school, and undergraduate students.  Submissions open December 1 and continue to February 1, 2023.  Complete submission information may be found at this link.   (AND, 2022 winning essays may be found here.)

     I close with a poem about a math-woman -- "San Antonio, January, 1993" -- a poem inspired by my time at a long-ago mathematics conference and included in a chapbook of my mathy poems, My Dance is Mathematics (available at this link). 

Monday, November 14, 2022

Who is the GOD of ARITHMETIC?

     Recently I have learned (from poet and Capillano University professor Lisa Lajeunesse -- who enjoys linking mathematics and the arts) of the work of Canadian poet Lorna Crozier.  Author of more than a dozen poetry collections and recipient of five honorary degrees, Crozier is versatile and widely read.   Here is one of her fascinating poems:

     God of ARITHMETIC      by Lorna Crozier

     Most children no longer know who this god is. For one thing,
     he uses chalk as if time does everything but erase. In aban-
     doned country schools, he prints columns of numbers on the
     blackboards. There are no pupils to add them up and call
     out the answers though his pockets burn with stars to give
     away. His worshippers, in danger of dying out, recite the
     time tables like Hail Marys under their breath to prove their
     minds are still okay. No matter what they’ve lost—the word
     geranium, the birthdates of their children—they can do their
     sums. He wanted his only commandment to be included on
     the tablets Moses brought down from the mountain, but the
     others, bartering for space, thought it was only about arithme-
     tic and left it out. It would have changed the world. It would
     have made us kinder. Thou shalt carry the one, he intones to
     the small desks in empty classrooms, carry the one.

Copyright © Lorna Crozier. Originally published in God of Shadows (McClelland & Stewart/Random House, 2018). 

Thursday, November 10, 2022

One Idea May Hide Another . . .

     One of the excitements I find in both mathematics and poetry is the continuing discovery of new meaning.  A first reading discovers something but subsequent readings discover more and more.  A poem by Kenneth Koch (1925-2002), "One Train May Hide Another," opens with "In a poem, one line may hide another line" -- focusing also on the idea that one thought may obscure another.

     Koch's poem is one that I first met lots of years ago when I was working with middle school students in a poetry class at a newly established Children's Museum in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.  At the time, the poem excited me by bringing back memories of traveling through western Pennsylvania as a child when my parents' car often needed to obey flashing red lights and stop while a train crossed our highway.  And sometimes there were parallel sets of tracks and the possibility that two trains might be passing our intersection in opposite directions at the same time. 

     I offer below the opening lines of the poem and a link to the complete poem; I post it with the hope that you also will enjoy it -- and will reflect on the ways that (in mathematics and elsewhere) one idea may hide -- or lead to -- another.   

Monday, November 7, 2022

How we learn Mathematics

      Recently I came across an interesting article about how we learn mathematics by Shaneen Suhail (a Masters student at JK Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Srinagar, India) -- and published online here in Kashmir Reader.   Suhail's thoughtful comments offer many ideas for teachers and students to consider -- and they include comparison of mathematics to poetry!

Like poetry, "mathematics says a lot with a little".  

The Secret Sits     by Robert Frost (1874-1963)

 We dance round in a ring and suppose,
 But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

Lots more of Frost's words are available here.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Struggling to create -- slave and master . . .

      In the sonnet below, Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935) speaks of the enslavement of a writer of poetry in the effort to explain ideas in a perfect form . . . an enslavement perhaps (or not) also shared by mathematicians.     Food for thought!

       SONNET     by Edward Arlington Robinson

       The master and the slave go hand in hand,
       Though touch be lost.  The poet is a slave,
       And there be kings do sorrowfully crave
       The joyance that a scullion may command.
       But, ah, the sonnet-slave must understand
       The mission of his bondage, or the grave
       May clasp his bones, or ever he shall save,
       The perfect word that is the poet's wand.

       The sonnet is a crown, whereof the rhymes
       Are for Thought's purest god the jewel-stones;
       But shapes and echoes that are never done
       Will haunt the workshop, as regret sometimes
       Will bring with human yearning to sad thrones
       The crash of battles that are never won.


Thursday, November 3, 2022

Struggling -- and then, after a while, Knowing

      Most of my experiences with solving mathematical problems have been challenging at first -- but often, after I explore and collect my thoughts, a pattern emerges.  The notion of "difficult at first" is vividly expressed in the following poem (found in the anthology Against Infinity (edited by Ernest Robson and Jet Wimp, now available at various used-book sites).

Geometry Test     by Larry Rubin

Thirty minutes, we had, to prove the theorem.
For twenty I sat staring at circles,
My inner angles frozen
When nothing came out equal.
The bisectors I drew were tilted wrong
While fear of the circular face of time
Stiffened my blood like clock-hands
Tracing arcs I never knew existed.
Suddenly that curve stretched perpendicular --
Longer that my longest transverse line --
Reaching beyond the limits of the page;
And the tallest segments of the intersected cone
Slit the seal of infinity.

My mind was washed like windshields after rain
And circles glided smoothly into place,
The arcs connecting in their shrunken frames,
I left that room, all theorems proved.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Friday, October 28, 2022

In Praise of the Irrational

     Japanese-American poet and retired math teacher Amy Uyematsu recently has published a new poetry collection, That Blue Trickster Time (What Books Press, 2022) and she has given me permission to share this fascinating mathy poem -- which vividly links the mathematical with the personal --  from that collection.

   In Praise of the Irrational     by Amy Uyematsu

        :  Kanpai (that's Japanese for “cheers”)

       Hooray for the illogical,
       this tale of built-in contradictions,
       each perilous paradox that can
       drive us bananas – and the curious
       ways we keep the faith.

       There's a logic to zero –
       ask any mathematician, poet or priest -
       but don’t expect them
       to explain.

       There's a profound dependability
       in the irrational instincts
       of women – yes us – all
       tenderness, guts, and a fierceness
       no man will ever fathom.  

Monday, October 24, 2022

Remote Schooling has hurt Math Learning

 Is it true that in any sequence
of thirty words in The Washington Post
at least two of the words will start with the same letter?

      Today's Washington Post has a story about recent declines in learning-assessment scores, especially in math -- both morale and persistence fell as students were remote from the watchful encouragement of in-person teachers.  

     Back in this blog posting in January, 2011, I offered poetic views of four of my important teachers.  Here is a repeat of one of those -- its lines remember Dr. Miriam C. Ayer  (d.1972), one of my mathematics professors at the University of Oklahoma in the late 1960s.  Even though I found it hard to like Ayer, I learned a great deal from her "Introduction to Topology" class.

     Nervous in class and tough
     to follow—she made errors
     on the blackboard yet demanded
     we write perfect mathematics
     in perfect English sentences. This was not
     an East Coast finishing school, and I hoped
     she’d be lenient with the Asian students
     even as fear made me work infinitely hard
     on papers that she gave back bright
     with red-ink from her difficult hand.

     No one before or since has read my words
     so carefully.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Communicating Mathematics with Poetry

     Each year MoMath (The National Museum of Mathematics) sponsors The Steven H. Strogatz Prize for Math Communication -- a contest for high school students; guidelines for next year's contest (deadline:  April 28, 2023) are available here.

      The 2022 Strogatz Prize winners include a poem -- "a proof of the function me" -- by Wyeth Renwick; here are its opening lines.

a proof of the function me     by Wyeth Renwick

          step one.
   find u.

          step two.
   add u to me and watch how the whole graph shifts upwards
   to make a u sized space where before it was only me
   until we're floating above the x-axis, u + me, an infinite
   line that stretches on past billions of little boxes
   on this graph paper grid.  let yourself think
   that maybe, just maybe, we were made for this - let yourself
   solve for the limits of the function and find that
   u + me approaches infinity.

          step three.

   square it all, square everything - make us into the parabola
   that my smile can't help but curve into when you pull
   our pinkies together and hold on real tight . . . 

 Renwick's complete poem is available here (click on poem-title).

The MoMath website offers these thoughtful comments about the poem:

     Wyeth Renwick’s poem is intriguingly ambiguous and open to interpretation: some of the judges read it as a love poem that winks at the reader with its use of mathematical concepts and language, while others saw it as a poetic animation of a human relationship, viewed as the graph of a function.  Either way, it makes math and poetry both seem more accessible to students who might otherwise not be drawn to these subjects.

Here is a link to previous postings in this blog that mention MoMath.

Monday, October 17, 2022

MacArthur Awards -- a Math-Woman, a Math-Poet



Recently the 2022 MacArthur Fellowship awards have been announced and the recipients include Melanie Matchett Wood of Harvard University, a a female mathematician who is a specialist in Number Theory and June Huh of Princeton University, a male mathematician who is credited with discovering underlying connections between disparate areas of mathematics and proving long-standing mathematical conjectures.  (This article about Huh tells of his high school ambition to be a poet BUT I have not been able to find online any of his poems.)

      While a high school student in Indianapolis,  Melanie Wood (then aged 16) became the first, and until 2004 the only female American to make the U.S. International Mathematical Olympiad Team, receiving silver medals in the 1998 and 1999 International Mathematical Olympiad.

     In honor of Melanie Matchett Wood and her work in Number Theory, here are the several lines from a poem on that topic by noted Czech mathematician Olga Taussky-Todd (1906-1995). (The complete poem is available here.)

          Number theory is like poetry
          they are both of the same kind
          they start a fire in your mind.
          Number theory is not just clever and smart
          it has a beauty that fills your heart.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Poetry and Mathematics -- Learning by Heart

     Many mathematical ideas are learned "by heart" -- that is, stored in  memory -- definitions, calculation, etc -- even for those who are not math-focused. 

      I grew up on a farm -- and, in addition to all of the learning opportunities related to farming, we had a book-case that included a set of Compton's encyclopedias, a collection of Aesop's Fables, and (my favorite treasure) Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses.   There are a number of these verses that I still know portions of "by heart" -- "My Shadow," "The Cow," "The Swing" -- and here is a two-line favorite:

       Happy Thought     by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

       The world is so full of a number of things.
       I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Monday, October 10, 2022

A Sonnet by William Rowan Hamilton

     Despite their similar lifespans, it is said that British mathematicians William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865) and George Boole (1815-1864) had no significant interactions; however, both wrote poetry.  Back in my posting on 9/12/2022, I offered a sonnet by Boole.   Below, a sonnet by Hamilton -- found, along with a rich supply of poetry and science, at this MIT website.

A sonnet by William Rowan Hamilton  

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Math Jokes and Other Mathy Applications

     Each week I get an email from Feedspot that tells me of mathy blog postings that I may have missed and may be interested in.  One of the reminders that I particularly enjoyed today was to visit the blog of Boston Mathematician Tanya Khovanova;  the actual blogsite is at this link: Tanya Khovanova 's Math BlogYesterday's posting involved some wordplay (math jokes); here are samples:

   I hate getting into debates about Möbius strips. They’re always one-sided.
        * * *
   4 out of 3 people have trouble with fractions.
        * * *
   Why was algebra so easy for the Romans? X was always 10.

When I visited Khovanova's blog, I searched for poetry -- one of my finds was a wedding poem composed by Gregory Adam Marton; here are its opening lines:

       In this summation, may there be no subtraction;
       May you multiply blissfully, and find no division;
       May the roots of the power of your love run deep;

 Marton's complete poem is available here.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Women in Mathematics -- Netherlands

      Below I offer a poetic quote from Marta Pieropan -- a faculty member at Utrecht University and a member of a European Women in Mathematics -- the Netherlands (EWM-NL), an activist organization supporting math-women.  They are involved, for example, in a Wikipedia Project and have developed a poster that celebrates math-women (and is available in several different languages, including English).


Thank you, Marta Pieropan, for your poetic words (which I found here).

P.S.  Let us all remember that Tuesday, October 11, 2022 is this year's Ada Lovelace DayIf you'd like to browse, here is a link to previous mentions of Ada Lovelace in this blog.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Is a poem like a theorem?

     Recently I have been musing over the question, "Is a poem like a theorem?"  Enriching my thinking has been a poem by Canadian-American poet Mark Strand (1934-2014), "The New Poetry Handbook."   I enjoyed the thought-stimulation that Strand's poem gave me and, as I read and reread, I explored changing the gender AND replacing "poem" by "theorem.  Not always perfectly sensible BUT thought-provoking!

Strand's complete poem of 21 stanzas is available at this link.   

Monday, September 26, 2022

Some students regret their major

      An article by Andrew Van Dam in the Washington POST earlier this month (available at this link) asserts that nearly 2 in 5 American college graduates regret their choice of major . . .  many humanities majors wish they had focused more on STEM subjects while engineering majors were the group most fully satisfied.  The article has made me think back to my own college days when it was the availability of scholarships rather than love of the sciences that led me there.

From Washington POST "Department of Data" (at this link)
     My own view is that education in several fields is far more enriching than focus in a single field -- that the humanities or social science major who wishes she had studied calculus and non-Euclidean geometry and then goes on to do that brings better preparation to her later field of study.  She has knowledge and perspectives to enrich her study of mathematics!

     Consideration of study preferences has led my thoughts to an interesting pair of poems by Duke University Professor Henry Petroski -- poems found in the 1979 anthology of mathematical poetry, Against Infinity (Primary Press, 1979, Edited by Ernest Robson & Jet Wimp).  

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Math-Poetry Recordings on YouTube

     The arrival in 2020 of COVID caused a huge number of gatherings to take place online -- including mathematics conferences and poetry readings- -- and performances at many of these special events have been recorded on YouTube.  I offer below a few links to recordings and to further information.  Recording myself reading poems would probably not been one of my chosen activities but mathematician-poet Sarah Glaz, who has been an enthusiastic organizer of poetry events for the BRIDGES Math-Arts Conferences, has requested recorded samples from each participating poet.

     One way to start YouTube math-poetry explorations is to go to this link -- a link I found by searching for "poetry math" on YouTube.  In this blog, we have mentioned YouTube a bit in the past -- and the blog's SEARCH feature finds this list of previous postings that feature YouTube links.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Arts-based Math Education -- Meet one of the Stars

     Through BRIDGES Math-Arts Conferences I have become acquainted with the versatile Canadian scholar, Susan Gerofsky -- and I introduce you to her varied achievements with this biographical sketch.

Susan Gerofsky is an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education and Environmental Education at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Her interdisciplinary research in curriculum studies is in embodied mathematics education through the arts, movement, gesture and voice, and she is a regular contributor to Bridges Math and Art. She is active as a poet, playwright, musician and filmmaker, and works with dance and fibre arts. You'll often find her cycling around town with a baritone horn or an accordion.

Gerofsky has introduced me to the use of combinatorial patterns in bell-ringing in the structure of poems.  Here, for example, is her "Desert Poem" -- based on the pattern "Plain Hunt on Four" or PH4.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Math Poetry Contest for Massachusetts Students

      Middle school, high school and college students in Massachusetts are invited to submit MATH POETRY in a contest sponsored by the American Mathematical Society.  The submission deadline is November 11 -- and lots of background information and  details for submission are offered at this link.

  A pattern of yearly contests has been interrupted by COVID -- however, looking back, I find two of the winning poems in the 2020 contest posted here, and a poster of winners for the 2019 contest is shown at this link.

Monday, September 12, 2022

The Poetry of Mathematician George Boole

      One of the interesting poetry collections on my shelves is The Poetry of George Boole by Desmond MacHale (Logic Press, Ireland, 2020 -- and published in the USA for Logic Press by  This is not simply a poetry collection -- but poetry with commentary.  MacHale includes more than seventy surviving poems by the Irish mathematician Boole (1815-1864) -- and he also discusses Boole's views of the connections between Science and the Arts with an initial chapter is entitled "Poetry and Mathematics."  

     It is quite appropriate that Boole should relate poetry to mathematics since he was, primarily, a mathematician; his Boolean algebra is basic to the design of digital computer circuits)   Boole's own poetry, however, found most of its inspiration outside of math.  Here is his Sonnet 20 (Sonnet to the Number Three); written in May 1846 and suggesting that belief in the religious Trinity is connected with our interpretation of space in three dimensions.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Enriching Poetry with Mathematical Ideas

     An important leader in the community of writers who link mathematics and poetry is Sarah Glaz -- a scholar who is not only a mathematician and poet but also an organizer, participant, publicist, and recorder for numerous math-poetry events.  Glaz is an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Connecticut and her UConn webpage is a vast source of mathematical and poetry treasures.

     I first came to know Sarah well as we worked together on an important project -- gathering poems for the anthology Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics (A K Peters / CRC Press, 2008).  A preview of this collection is available here.   Here, from that collection, is one of my favorites -- a thoughtful poem about parenting and attitudes (love? or not?) toward mathematics:

Love Story     by Sarah Glaz

       If I ever write about you--
       he said--
       it will be a love story
       a story about
       how much you want to be loved.

       Father, do you love
       your little girl?
       I brought you
       a soup full
       of numbers
       formulas chopped to perfection
       integrals fried to a crisp 

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

From a poetic artist -- "New Math"

     Neha Misra, one of my neighbors (in Eastern Village cohousing in Silver Spring, Maryland) is both a poet and a visual artist; in a recent conversation, I asked Neha if she had any mathy poems -- and she  volunteered the following lines-- full of rich mathematical terminology paired with multiple -- and thoughtful --  meanings.  Thank you, Neha!

New Math        by Neha Misra
Because I once scored 49 out of 50
in a Mathematical Physics exam
that I was so proud of, still am.
I do not remember much of
signs of sines and cosines.
I remember the differential equations
were all fine, but I was in love
with the curves of integration—
Because I once taught a scared young boy
in the confident body of a man
to not let his exponential fear of math
come in the way of his waking dreams
of flying with numbers.
Paper and pen in our hands,
together we melted his fear of math
into the heart of zero
and he flew     
far   far           far             away from me
on the infinite new wings of those numbers—  

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Dangerous Surprises of Exponential Growth

      In 1968, while I was in graduate school at the University of Oklahoma, the journal Science published "The Tragedy of the Commons" by Garrett Hardin.  Hardin's article describes a situation in which shared resources are overused and exploited -- leading to depletion of resources for the future.  In recent years there has been much criticism of Hardin's essay (and criticism of Hardin) -- but for me it served as a wake-up call to concerns about the environment.  With environmental difficulties growing exponentially -- and with many of us not fully aware of the growing rapidity of exponential growth, I have posed to students this problem:

An 8x8 syllable-square

We may be close to the end before we realize it . . .

Monday, August 29, 2022

Mathematics -- not isolated STARS but COMMUNITY

     In his 1940 book-length essay, A Mathematician's Apology, eminent British mathematician G. H Hardy minimizes the importance of those who communicate mathematics to those outside the research community   ... the book's opening paragraph is show below . . . it concludes with "Exposition, criticism, appreciation. is work for second rate minds."

The complete essay is available online here

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Remembering Life on the Farm

      I grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania -- and I think that farm life (at least as my father practiced it) was a strong introduction to mathematics.  Counting, calculating, predicting -- and, most of all, problem-solving -- prepared me for studies and for a complex world.  Today is the anniversary of my parents' marriage -- on August 24, 1939 -- and an important occasion for looking back!

     Last weekend I visited the farm (Meadow Lane Farm, now a golf course) and my rememberings drew me to this years-ago poem (previously posted here)

"Things to Count On" was included in my chapbook collection, My Dance is Mathematics  -- now out of print but available online here.   AND here is link to the results of a blog search for farm.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Celebrate poet Rita Dove

      In the KIDSPOST section of this morning's Washington Post I learned that next Sunday, August 28, is the birthday of poet Rita Dove (b. 1952) and Saturday, August 27 is the birthday of mathematician Giuseppe Peano (1858-1932).  Dove (who served as US Poet Laureate 1993-95) is author of one of my favorite mathy poems -- a poem about the EXCITEMENT of learning mathematics -- and I offer it below: 

from The Yellow House on The Corner (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1980)

     Work by Rita Dove has also appeared in earlier postings in this blog.  This link leads to the results of a blog-search using her name.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

HER Math Story

    Her Math Story” is a platform of three women mathematicians (Julia Kroos, Tamara Grossmann and Joana Grah) who want to empower young women through “stories and blog entries to pursue studies and careers in maths, spark their curiosity and transmit enthusiasm for technical subjects”, as described on their website.  The first outcome of their collaboration with “Her Math Story” (HMS) is this interview with Professor Shanti Venetiaan

I learned the information above from the European Women in Mathematics – The Netherlands (EWM-NL) website where I also found this poetic quote by mathematician Marta Pieropan:

          Proving a theorem gives me the same satisfaction
          as laying the last tile of a jigsaw puzzle
          that finally reveals the whole picture
          and highlights the relations
          between the various parts.          

Find some time . . . visit the EWM website . . . read . . . and reflect!