Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Fib -- a form that gathers strength

The "Fib" is a poetry form in which the numbers of syllables per line follow the pattern of the Fibonacci numbers.  (See also April 19 and April 29 postings.)   The sequence of Fibonacci numbers starts with 0 and 1 and then each successive Fibonacci number is the sum of the two preceding.  Thus, the non-zero members of the sequence are:
          1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, . . .
Poet Athena Kildegaard's collection Red Momentum (Red Dragonfly Press, 2006 ) consists entirely of Fibonacci poems.  The following samples from Kildegaard's collection illustrate the way that increasing line lengths can build to dramatic effect. From a simple start, complexity grows.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ghost stories in algebra -- Happy Halloween!

Born in Yugoslavia, Charles Simic emigrated at age 15 to Chicago; widely known and respected as a poet and teacher (at the University of New Hampshire), Simic served as US Poet Laureate during 2007-08.    This little poem is from The World Doesn't End (Mariner Books, 1989).

               Ghost Stories Written          by Charles Simic

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Continuing Climate Concerns

     Split This Rock, an activist confederation of poets concerned with vital human issues, has directed attention to environmental concerns by publishing my "Mitigation of Toxins" as their poem of the week for this final week in October; please follow the link and enjoy this poem and others their archive offers.  ("Mitigation of Toxins" first appeared in Innisfree and also is included in my new collection, Red Has No Reason .)
     In continued support of climate concerns--which seem to me often to fit a square-poem format -- here is "Arctic," a 5x5 square by poet Linda Benninghoff, author of six chapbook collections. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Lemma by Constance Reid

Constance Reid (1918-2010), died on October 14.  Sister of a mathematician (Julia Robinson), Reid wrote first about life in World War II factories that supported the war effort and then, later, several biographies (including one of her sister) and other books about mathematicsKenneth Rexroth's poem "A Lemma by Constance Reid" (offered below) is based on material appearing in Reid's popular book From Zero to Infinity:  What Makes Numbers Interesting (Thomas Y Crowell, 1955).  Reid is known for the enthusiasm and clarity with which she presented mathematical ideas--seeking to attract and to satisfy non-mathematical readers. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Writing poetry like mathematics

In an article about the Chilean mathematician and poet Nicanor Parra, Paul M Pearson says, :  "Parra almost wrote poetry like he would a mathematical theorem using an extreme 'economy of language' with 'no metaphors, no literary figures.' "  Today I present work by Nicanor Parra and Richard Aston, both of whom write their poetry with the same economy and care that are used when writing mathematics.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"The Equation" by Owen Sheers

This posting is brief to encourage you to have time to read Owen Sheers' fine poem several times and let it settle in and be part of you.  Thanks to F J Craveiro de Carvalho, University of Coimbra, Portugal, who brought the poem to my attention. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I miss you, Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner (1914-2010), featured also in my June 6 posting, would have been 96 years old today--October 21, 2010.  All over the world lovers of mathematical puzzles have taken time today to celebrate Gardner's puzzling--and the ways it stimulated their own.  Although Gardner disclaimed poetic gifts, he popularized puzzle poems written by others -- and he introduced the poetry strategies of the OULIPO (see March 25August 5, and August 23 postings) to American readers.  Here is a puzzle poem, by an unknown author, included in Gardner's Puzzles from Other Worlds (Vintage, 1984) and in Strange Attractors (A K Peters, 2008). 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Giraffe -- novel (& prose poem) by May Swenson

Poet and playright May Swenson (1913-89) was born in Utah to Mormon parents and grew up in a home in which Swedish was the primary language. Swenson wrote of the experience of poetry as "based in a craving to get through the curtains of things as they appear, to things as they are, and then into the larger, wilder space of things as they are becoming." Here are the opening stanzas of Swenson's prose poem, "GIRAFFE:  A Novel," from In Other Words:  New Poems (Knopf, 1987).  I think this is FUN -- and hope you also enjoy it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Length of a Coastline

In the nineties, fifteen or so years ago, when I began posting mathematical poems on the Internet, two of my earliest connections were Ken Stange, a poet and polymath and professor of psychology at Ontario's Nipissing University, and his daughter Kate, then a teen.  Kate publicized her love of mathematics and poetry by creating an online collection,"Mathematical Poetry:  A Small Anthology" which she has continued to maintain for many years--during which she has completed undergraduate and graduate studies in mathematics. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Voices in a Geometry Classroom

I have been invited to return next week (October 20 at 7 PM) to Bloomsburg University, where I taught mathematics for lots of years, for a poetry reading.  Preparation for the reading (which celebrates my new book, Red Has No Reason) drew my thinking back to my teaching days at Bloom and to "Geometry Demonstration," a poem about the arguments in my head as I faced a particularly challenging class of geometry students.  Here it is.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Varieties of triangles -- by Guillevic

My introduction to French poet Guillevic (1909-97) came from UK poet Tim Love who found three of his triangle poems translated into Italian.  Jacqueline Lapidus translated them for me from French into English, after which I also found Guillevic's collection Geometries (Englished by Richard Sieburth, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010) -- with its circles, ellipses, parallels, and so on.  And so, beyond these three, there will be more to enjoy later.  

Monday, October 11, 2010

Varieties of palindromes in poetry

My posting for October 6 mentioned palindromes. Today we continue with the topic, including illustrations of the various ways they may influence poems.  A number such as 12345654321, which reads the same if its digits are reversed, is the sort of palindrome one encounters in arithmetic.  Palindromic poetry includes more variety.  These sentences, taken from a list compiled by Ralph Griswold, are samples of palindromes in which the unit is a single letter.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

"The Seventh" by Attila Jozsef

Attila József (1905-1937)  is one of the most important Hungarian poets of the 20th century. 

     The Seventh   by Attila József

     If you set foot on this earth,
     you must go through seven births.
     Once, in a house that's burning,
     once, among ice floes churning,
     once, amidst madmen raving,
     once, in a field of wheat swaying,
     once, in a cloister, bells ringing,
     once, in a pigsty a-squealing.
     Six babes crying, not enough, son.
     Let yourself be the seventh one.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Squares of Climate Concern

The square (with as many lines as syllables per line) is a poetry-form that has existed  for centuries and is now enjoying a revival.  Here are three small squares that come from my concerns for the precarious imbalances we humans have created within our natural environment. 

      There is no                           
      place to throw                     
      that's away.                          

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Poetry, in other words, is mathematics"

From Tim Love, British poet and member of the Computer Systems Group in the Engineering Department at Cambridge University, I received this link -- National Poetry Day: unlock the mathematical secrets of verse -- to an article announcing the October 7 holiday in the UK.  The article's author, Steve Jones (a professor of genetics at University College), goes so far as to begin his third paragraph with the sentence quoted as title to this posting.  Follow the link and form your own view.  Is mathematics truly important to poetry? 

Monday, October 4, 2010

"The Reckoning" by M. Sorescu (Romania,1936-96)

Works by poet and playwright  Marin Sorescu (1936-1996) continue to be popular with Romanian readers--and he is one of the most-frequently translated of Romanian poets.  In "The Reckoning" we see and hear his irony twisting among images chosen from mathematics.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Art, poetry, and mathematics -- and Rafael Alberti

On September 23 I was privileged to hear Annalisa Crannell, mathematics professor at Lancaster's Franklin and Marshall College, speak on "Math and Art:  the Good, the Bad, and the Pretty."  This informative presentation, sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) and pitched toward undergraduates, showed ways that artists use mathematics. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Nursing--and other vital applications of counting

     Although counting is one of the basic activities of mathematics, its importance also extends to the highest mathematical levels.  We count the solutions to systems of equations, the crossings in a diagram of a knot, the intersections of surfaces in multi-dimensional space, the necessary repititions in a circuit covering the edges of a graph. Counting likewise imposes order on some of life's difficult and non-mathematical tasks.  In Veneta Masson's poem, "Arithmetic of Nurses," we have a vivid picture of the careful alertness required of those who cares for ill patients.
     Following Masson's poem, is "Things to Count On," one of my own poems of counting--a prose poem describing the way that numbers order the life of a frugal farmer and his family, working to make ends meet in Pennsylvania in the middle of the 20th century.