Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Poetry with base 10

In his collection, Rational Numbers (Truman State, 2000) Harvey Hix presents "Orders of Magnitude" -- a collection of 100 stanzas in which each stanza has ten lines and each line has ten syllables.  Beyond this numeric structure is frequent use of mathematical imagery; here are samples (stanzas 42 and 100):

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A square riddle -- by Sylvia Plath

Metaphors     by Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

I'm a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf's big with its yeasty rising.
Money's new minted in this fat purse.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off.

This 9 x 9 square first appeared in Crossing the Water (Faber and Faber, 1971).  

Monday, November 22, 2010

Butterfly Effects

An equation or system of equations is said to be "ill-conditioned" if a small change in input data can produce a very large change in the output.  This inverse relationship between input and output has become popularly known by the phrase "butterfly effect."  Two poets from Eastern Pennsylvania, Gary Fincke and Harry Humes, have written poems about this phenomenon. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

More from Guillevic

     My October 13 post presented three small poems by the French poet Guillevic (1909-97).  Strongly drawn to his work, I have purchased the collection Geometries (translated by Richard Sieburth, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010);  Guillevic has found in each geometric figure a personality and a voice.  Buy the book and enjoy!
     Here are three additional samples from Geometries:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Syllable-Sestina -- a square permutation poem

Some poetry is "free verse" but many poems are crafted by following some sort of form or constraint--they might be sonnets or ballads or pantoums or squares, or possibly even a newly invented form.  From poet Tiel Aisha Ansari I learned of a "syllable sestina challenge" from Wag's Revue. The desired poem contains six lines and only six syllables, which are repeated using the following permutation-pattern (the same pattern followed by the end-words in the stanzas of a sestina):

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Celebrate Constraints -- Happy Birthday, OULIPO

Patrick Bahls and Richard Chess of the University of North Carolina at Ashville have organized a "Conference on Constrained Poetry" to be held on November 19-20 in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of OULIPO (short for French: OUvroir de LIttérature POtentielle), founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais. The group defines the term littérature potentielle as (rough translation): "the seeking of new structures and patterns that may be used by writers in any way they enjoy." Constraints are used to trigger new ideas and the Oulipo group is an ongoing source of novel techniques, often based on mathematical ideas -- such as counting letters and syllables, substitution algorithms,  permutations, palindromes, and even chess problems.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Special square stanzas

My recent posting (November 14)  of a symmetric stanza by Lewis Carroll illustrates one variety of  "square" poem -- in which the number of words per line is the same as the number of lines.  My own square poems (for examples, see October 7 or June 9) are syllable-squares; that is, each stanza has the same number of syllables per line as there are lines. Lisa McCool's poem below is, like Carroll's, a word-square; in McCool's poem --  in addition to the 6x6 shape -- the first words of each line, when read down, match the first line of the poem, and the last words of each line, when read down, match the last line of the poem.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Symmetric stanza

Although the following stanza by mathematician-author Lewis Carroll first appears to be a merely melodramatic example of Victorian verse, a bit of scrutiny reveals its special symmetry.

     I often wondered when I cursed,
     Often feared where I would be—
     Wondered where she’d yield her love
     When I yield, so will she,
     I would her will be pitied!
     Cursed be love! She pitied me…

This 6 line stanza by Carroll (well-known for for his nonsense verse) reads the same both horizontally and vertically. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Theorem-proof / Cut-up / poems

     For mathematicians, reading a well-crafted proof that turns toward its conclusion with elegance and perhaps surprise -- this mirrors an encounter with poetry.  But can one have that poetry-math experience without being fluent in the language of mathematics?  Below I offer a proof (a version of Euclid's proof of the infinitude of primes) and a "cut-up" produced from that proof-- and I invite readers (both mathematical and non-mathematical) to consider them as poems.

Monday, November 8, 2010

One type of "mathematical" poetry

When I began (in the 1980s) collecting examples of "mathematical poetry," I sought lines of verse that included some mathematical terminology.  More recently, my view has expanded to include structual, visual, and algorithmic influcences from mathematics; however, the two samples from the work of William Blake (1757-1827), presented below, fit into that initial category -- selected as "mathematical" because of their vocabulary -- one speaks of "infinity," the other of "symmetry."  (Blake was an artist as well as poet and his volumes of poetry were illustrated with his prints.)  The following stanza is the opening quatrain for Blake's poem "Auguries of Innocence." 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Troubles with math, expressed poetically

     Should I admit that I sometimes feel a bit of resentment toward people who are insistently articulate about their difficulties with mathematics?  As if that good energy might be turned toward learning the subject they decry.
On the whole, though, it seems better to face the fact that we folks who speak the language of mathematics are the odd ones.  Here are perceptive trouble-with-math poems by John Stone (1936-2008), who wrote as a parent trying to help with homework, and Elizabeth Savage, who compares a pair of differently-able friends. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Creation from "nothing"

     Christian Otto Josef Wolfgang Morgenstern (1871-1914) was a German writer whose poetry often involved paradox or nonsense and whose witticisms are oft-quoted by his German admirers;  for example, the following line from "The Impossible Fact" ("Die unmögliche Tatsache", 1910): "Weil, so schließt er messerscharf / Nicht sein kann, was nicht sein darf." which may be translated as  "For, he reasons pointedly / That which must not, can not be."