Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In the same family -- a poet and a mathematician

When a poet and a mathematician are members of the same family, understandings result.  Ohio poet Cathryn Essinger is a twin of a mathematician and writes about this relationship.  Here are opening stanzas of two of her poems.

from  You Are Right

     In your super-logical,
     bumbling way,
     with halting speech
     and much digression,
     you explain that male
     mathematicians are rarely
     verbal . . . .

from  The Mathematician, Counting

     One cannot help loving a mathematician.
     Such guts, such pizzaz!
     Plump Copernicus, full of round theories;
     Euclid, pondering his postulates
     and counting, always counting
     toward a finite infinity.

     All the while, the heart's
     little time bomb is busy,
     adding and subtracting.
     I have seen both the sun
     and the moon in the morning
     What does this prove?
     Some superstition?
     Some old astronomer's tale?
     No, no . . .only the proof of our spinning--
     the geometry of the universe.
     . . .
The complete poems appear in Essinger's collection A Desk in the Elephant House (Texas Tech Univ Press, 1998) and in the anthology Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics (A K Peters, 2008).

Poet Kathabela Wilson and Rick Wilson are spouses.  Rick is a mathematics professor at Cal Tech who specializes in combinatorics and Kath writes poetry as she attends conference with him.  The following poem was written at the International Workshop on Combinatorics, Keio University, Yokohama, Japan, June, 2007.  Kathabela's poem-title is also the title of a textbook by Rick.

A Course in Combinatorics

If you meet my eyes
looking over the hydrangeas
how do you know your computer will work
what are your lower bounds
what the parameters the minimal explanation
of our complicated interaction?

how could we generalize to maximize our aim
what probabalistic asymptotic
computational construct could make this
roux for two
covering arrays displaying
our pairwise compatiblity

Now into the serene pool the look
amidst the framing moss and tall grass
nodes, degrees, diameters,
our eyes are bubble sorts recursively constructed
staring through bamboo channels
floating rafts of iris

How can you keep me
pristine, singular, for yourself against
suspicious users unwilling to pay the price?
embed me
watermark imperceptibly
what you want to keep

Through paths into the hills
we've relaxed our plan thanks to your intent
let go one end of it
that need not be on the circumference
we're decomposing bridges
found low ceilinged a darkish cave

a subpath of our outer walk,
a subgraph of a particular kind
let this be our focus,
the long time representative
surface of us has wrapped around itself
and our embrace has turned spherical

our proof is elementary but not trivial
consider the rational coefficients
the number of congruences
the power of our prime
the bound is the best possible identity
we omit the details

Wilson's poem has appeared in Totem, Caltech Literary and Visual Arts Magazine (June 2009) and in a combinatorics newsletter.  She thanks mathematicians Rick Wilson, Charles Colbourn, Frank Hsu, Takashi Kitagawa, and Mark Ellingham, and the gardens of Kamakura for their influence on the poem.

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