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.

   Geometry Demonstration       by JoAnne Growney

   Yesterday, some visitors
   interrupted geometry class --
   angry voices raged around the room,
   unwilling to stay caged within my head
   while I spoke enthusiastically
   of axioms of incidence,
   placements of parallels,
   numbers of degrees
   in the angles of rectangles.

          Wake up. This is not difficult --
          no hungry mouths to feed, no
          bleeding wounds to heal. Adopt
          a polygonal attitude. Examine
          an assumption. Abandon the postulate
          that says, don't ever question.
          You were not born knowing.
          Your mind won't get dirty
          on a tangent of hyperbolic thought.

          Open up.
          Let one eye watch
          the parallels
          that meet.
          Shift to a point
          of perspectivity.
          Draw those lines
          that cross
          at your heart.

   My students ignored these stirring voices,
   so I dismissed them and went on--
   rightly coaxing obtuse angles
   to square up
   and respond.

This poem was first published in 1996 in The College Mathematics Journal with the title "Geometry Class."  This and other math-related poems may be found at my website.


  1. Your discussion and poem on Geometry brought to mind this poem by Rita Dove.


    By Rita Dove


    I prove a theorem and the house expands:
    the windows jerk free to hover near the ceiling,
    the ceiling floats away with a sigh.

    As the walls clear themselves of everything
    but transparency, the scent of carnations
    leaves with them. I am out in the open

    and above the windows have hinged into butterflies,
    sunlight glinting where they’ve intersected.
    They are going to prove some point true and unproven.

  2. Thanks for bringing Rita Dove's poem to my attention again. It also is included in my
    August 10 posting: