Monday, June 21, 2010

Poetry with mathematical symbols

On the internet and elsewhere a variety of viewpoints are expressed about the criteria poetry should satisfy to be "mathematical." Today I want to introduce samples and links for three writers:   Bob Grumman (Florida), Gregory Vincent St Thomasino (New York), and Kaz Maslanka (California).  Grumman and Maslanka write poems with a strong visual element and, as the blogs and comments for all three testify, they differ in their views of what may be properly called "mathematical" poetry..

The "haiku" is a Japanese poetry form which is expected to have a strong visual imagery and to follow a strict 5-7-5 syllable count in its three lines. Numerical syllable counts do not, however, easily translate into English.  Here for example, is a translation (by R H Blyth) of a well-known haiku by Basho.

     The old pond--
     a frog jumps in,
     the sound of water.

Other translations of this and others of Basho's haiku are available online.  

Kaz Maslanka, a computer engineer and consultant, an artist and poet, uses mathematical operations and symbols in his poetry; he has a blog about a variety of types of symbolic poetry that offers introductions to several other writers as well.   In Maslanka's blog we find his interpretation of the pond-frog haiku by Basho:

Here, too,  is Maslanka's "Sacrifice and Bliss" (also collected in the anthology, Strange Attractors):
Poet Bob Grumman has developed a visual poetry series invoving mathematical symbols-- drawing from the Japanese haiku, they are called mathemaku.  Grumman also has an interpretation of Basho's pond-frog Haiku:

Gregory St. Thomasino is editor of the postmodern online journal E-ratio ; in addition, St Thomasino is a poet and blogger; therein he presents his characterization of "mathematical" poetry and offers several brief samples, among them, a first type, "mutually inverse operations":

     Change + purse = church.
     kite + propeller = wing.
     to + to = too.
     am = be + I

and a second type called a "transversal poem":

      multiculturalism ≠ ethnocentricity
     government ≠ media
     determinism ≠ character and motive
     creationism ≠ evolution

St. Thomasino develops the ideas behind his designations in several "mathematical poetry" blog postings, one, two, and three.
 A link that connects today's poets--Grumman, Maslanka, and St Thomasino -- to me (and to others of the math-poetry sort)  -- is a math-art-poetry project at the Bowery Poetry Club that is being directed by the club's artist-in-residence mathematician-artist-poet John Sims.

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