Monday, April 6, 2020

Uncertainty persists . . .

      In these days of coronavirus uncertainty and risk, my thoughts are drawn again and again to this couplet:

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.

And, as the coronavirus pandemic delays baseball season, here are additional Frost-thoughts:

     Poets are like baseball pitchers. 
     Both have their moments.  The intervals are the tough things.  

Friday, April 3, 2020

The Woman Who Bested the Men at Math

     An American Mathematical Society Page-a-Day Mathematics calendar, compiled by mathematician and free-lance writer Evelyn Lamb, has let me know today that tomorrow, April 4, marks the birthday of mathematician Philippa Garrett Fawcett (1868-1948), who became, "in 1890, the first woman to score the highest mark of all the candidates for the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge University." 
     Learn more about Philippa Fawcett at this website, "Biographies of Women Mathematicians,: --  maintained by Emeritus Professor Larry Riddle at Agnes Scott College.  Riddle's biographic sketch of Fawcett includes a poem of anonymous origin that celebrates her 1890 achievement.  Here are its opening stanzas:

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Math Poettary -- continuous, but not differentiable

     A few weeks ago I was introduced via email to Gauarav Bhatnagar, a mathematician now at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India.  In addition to varied and deep mathematical and educational interests, Bhatnagar likes to play with words; here are a couple examples of his poetic wordplay -- or, as he calls it, poettary.

        Continuous function     by Gaurav Bhatnagar

        A continuous function,
        draw it without
        picking up pencil
        from paper.

        At all points,
        the left hand limit 

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

She should have been on the Math Team

     National Poetry Month starts tomorrow and I hope that poetry can be a thoughtful focus for you in this time of crisis and confinement due to the coronavirus.  Join me in looking back to several previous posts of work by one of my favorite poets, Audre Lorde (1934-1992).

     "Hanging Fire"    about a girl who should have been on the Math Team
               "The Art of Response"
                         "Smelling the Wind

Lorde's collection, The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance, may be found and browsed here.
For lots more poems about math-girls-and-women, go here.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Mathematics...underlies everything...said the poet

     I first met scientist-poet Mary Peelen via an 2019 interview of her by mathematician-poet Gizem Karaali in The Adroit Journal .  The conversation includes an introduction to Peelen's poetry collection, Quantum Heresies (Glass Lyre Press, 2019) in which she discusses her intent "to show how mathematics and physics underlie everything in my life . . ." Read more here.

       NUMBER THEORY     by Mary Peelen

       Forty one apples in the tree,
       red and round,

       praise awaiting gravity,
       wholly free of abstraction.

       When it comes to the primes
       and matters of religion,

       I defer to Pythagoras,
       his ancient cult and authority. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

SUNSET poem -- guided by a Fano diagram

Warning:  even if you are not a mathy person, you will like the poem offered below!
     When a writer picks up her pen and starts to write, the initial phrases may be simply a ramble -- a pouring out of thoughts that might be able to be shaped into a poem.  Over the centuries, writers have used syllable-counts and patterns of rhyme to help them shape their word into the best-possible expressions.
     Earlier in this blog (in this 2016 posting) is a poem created by Black Hills State University mathematician Daniel May using a geometric structure called a Fano Plane.  I offer below another similarly-structured creation by May -- and, after the poem, a bit of explanation.
Fano Plane diagram

Sunset : October 11th      by Daniel May

it's late in the day and we’ve climbed up this rise.
i stare, too closely, into the
leaving of the light streaming through the treetops 
          from the next ridge over.

later, i'll wonder if looking into the sun makes me crazy,
or gives me secret terrible knowledge.
my last willful act will be staring directly into our star, 
          and it will be like burial at sun.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Celebrating 10 Years of Math-Poetry Blogging

     This blog's first posting, "Poetry of Logical Ideas" -- found here, occurred ten years ago today on March 23, 2010.    This link leads to a list of topics, poets, and mathematicians contained in the 1200+ postings made since then.
Word Cloud for this blog -- created at

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Honor World Poetry Day on 3/21 with a Math Poem

On March 21 each year, UNESCO World Poetry Day
Browsing down through this blog will lead you to lots of poems to read to celebrate that special day. In addition, here's something new -- I offer below part of a fine poem that I recently found again in an old collection, Verse and Universe, (Edited by Kurt Brown, Milkweed Editions, 1998). 

from     Reasons for Numbers     by Lisel Mueller (1924-2020)

          Because I exist

          Because there must be a reason
          why I should cast a shadow

          So that good can try to be better
          and become best
          and beginning grow into middle and end 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

What does this math-poetry blog contain?

An alphabetical list of TOPICS
and NAMES of all of the poets and mathematicians
cited in this blog is available here.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Keeping Track -- poetry with numbers

      The very fine poetry of Jane Hirshfield has been featured in several earlier blog postings.  And below, again -- with some lines from "Ledger," the title poem for her new collection, out this month. These lines find, as Hirshfield often does, both life-truths and poetry in numbers.

     Ledger     by Jane Hirshfield

     Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is 3,592 measures.
     A voice kept far from feeling is heard as measured.
     What’s wanted in desperate times are desperate measures.
     Pushkin’s unfinished Onegin: 5,446 lines.   

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Observe Pi-Day by writing in Pilish

      Many poets use constraints to shape their writing but few are as constrained as mathematician Mike Keith who has written many works in Pilish -- that is, a language in which the flow of words have lengths that follow the digits of Pi.  In honor of 2020's Pi-Day on 3.14, I have developed a small bit of Pilish, a poem of sorts, which I offer below.

 Entering the term "Pilish" into this blog's SEARCH box finds these earlier postings that celebrate Pi
 The first 50 decimal digits are 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510 . . .

Monday, March 9, 2020

"Numbers and Faces" and 23 more math poems

     "Numbers and Faces" is the title of a poem by W. H. Auden -- and I also have used it as the title of a collection of poems that I gathered into a small anthology for the Humanistic Mathematics Network in 2001.  The collection is out of print BUT is available here as a pdf -- and the Table of Contents is shown below:

Wednesday, March 4, 2020


Sunday, March 8, 2020
      Often it is difficult to find time for history in mathematics courses.  One rather concise way that some of us introduce math personalities into the classroom is through poetry.  Today, as part of Women's History Month, I offer links back to a sample of poems in previous postings that celebrate math-women.

Amalie "Emmy" Noether (1882–1935)
     Following stanzas about Noether's life and achievements, the poem ends with these lines:
                    Today, history books proclaim that Noether 
                    is the greatest mathematician
                    her sex has produced. They say she was good
                    for a woman. 

Monday, March 2, 2020

New math poems -- recently found online

     A couple of days ago an email brought me the Table of Contents of the latest issue (Vol. 42, Issue 1) of  The Mathematical Intelligencer -- and it had links to two poems that I hope that you also will enjoy.
     First was "The Day I Receive My Ph.D." by Arkaye Kierulf of Cornell University. Kierulf's poem begins with these lines:
          I’ll head out into the streets to hand out
          My dissertation abstract like discount-hotel flyers.
          For Christmas I’ll send copies of my diploma to  . . .
For Kierulf's complete poem go here.
     Also in this same issue of the Intelligencer -- and available at this link -- is the poem, "Remembering e" by Robert J. MacG. Dawson of Halifax University in Nova Scotia.  Dawson's math-poetry has been featured in several previous posting's in this blogVisit and enjoy!

     Additional very rich sources of mathematical poetry are the twice-yearly issues of the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics (online here). The latest issue (January 2020) contains a folder of Statistical Poetry by Larry Lesser (many of Lesser's poems also are featured in this blog), and five additional poems:
     "Perfect (a poem)" by Joseph Chaney, "A Letter to Niccolò Fontana de Brescia" by Jessica Huey, "The Empress's Nose: A Parable, After Feynman" by Robert Dawson, "SIGINT signifier" by Terry Trowbridge, and "The Master Oiler" by Ernesto Estrada.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

A MATH WOMAN acrostic poem

Can one describe a MATH WOMAN in 9 words?
and, what if those words' first letters must spell MATH WOMAN?
Try it -- it's fun!

       M  ultiplies
       A  xioms
       T  risects
       H  yperbolas

       W  rites
       O  rthogonal
       M  atrices
       A   voids
       N   egatives

Monday, February 24, 2020

Counting syllables, considering snowflakes

     From Larry Lesser, a professor at The University of Texas at El Paso (a researcher in math education) and a poet and songwriter and friend, today's poem offers a thoughtful reflection on the properties of a snowflake--and the fragility of thought and weather patterns.  But first (and also from Lesser), here's a clever "2019" stanza (in which each line has the number of syllables of the corresponding digit in that year):


                    sometimes the strongest thing we can say.

       SNOWFLAKE     by Lawrence Mark Lesser

        Some say
        ‘‘no two alike’’,
        others say
        ‘‘not too alike’’.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Which order is best -- or should I try them all?

This posting celebrates a new poetry collection -- 
Ringing the Changes by Stephanie Strickland 
(Counterpath, 2020).
This new collection starts with an idea from bell-ringing.  Some city towers have marvelous-sounding bells -- and sometimes these bells ring wonderful concerts for nearby inhabitants.  One of the traditional bell-ringing activities is called "ringing the changes" in which a collection of n bells are rung, in sequence, in all of the possible n-factorial bell-orders.  (Here, at Strickland's website, are some links to information about the art of bell-ringing.)

BUT, what if the goal were not to ring bells in sequence 
but to generate (for a reader) sequences of words (thoughtful poetic phrases)?
This sort of art is what Strickland brings to us in Ringing the Changes.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Those trains in word problems -- who rides them?

    A Problem in a Math Book     by Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000)

     I remember a problem in a math book
     about a train that leaves from place A and another train
     that leaves from place B. When will they meet?
     And no one ever asked what happens when they meet:
     will they stop or pass each other by, or maybe collide?
     And none of the problems was about a man who leaves from place A
     and a woman who leaves from place B. When will they meet, 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

"Binary Heart" -- linking love and mathematics

      From the xkcd webcomic by Randall Munroe -- and also shown on the cover of Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics, we have this reminder of upcoming Valentine's Day.
"Binary Heart" by Randall Munroe,
     Munroe's clever drawings "of romance, sarcasm, math, and language" have appeared also in previous postings in this blog (here's a link) and his website is fun to visit.
     The anthology, Strange Attractors; Poems of Love and Mathematics-- edited by Sarah Glaz and me -- was published in 2008 by AK Peters and contains more than 150 poems of math and love (including another -- "Useless" -- by Munroe.)  More about Munroe is available here.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Valentine's Day -- a time for Love and Mathematics

     Perhaps you are looking for a mathy Valentine
or a Valentine for a mathy person . . . or both.  

and offers lots of math-poetic possibilities.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Welcome DIVERSITY in mathematics

     As February on the calendar brings BLACK HISTORY month and March brings WOMEN'S HISTORY month, I invite you to explore the contributions of diverse groups to mathematics.  In this blog, I celebrate links between a rainbow of math-people and poetry -- for example, in this posting, "Mathematicians are not just white dudes, (which includes links to math-poetry by Benjamin Banneker and Scott Williams). 

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Another prize-winning poem

     It was not until after my posting yesterday that I got permission from the third of the winners in the AMS 2020 student poetry contest to post his work.  Here is "The Number Won" by Austen Mazenko.   (And here is a link to a YouTube video of the January 18 event in which each of the winning poets reads their winning poem.)
Austen is a high school senior from Greenwood Village, CO. He loves words, numbers, and their patterns--and looks forward to pursuing mathematics in college next year.
THANK YOU to the American Mathematical Society for encouraging math-poetry!