Monday, January 31, 2011

Romanian poets -- Cassian and Barbu

Born in 1924, in Galati, Romania, Nina Cassian has published over fifty books -- besides poetry, she has works of fiction and books for children. Since 1985 she has lived in exile in the United States. Among those Cassian credits with strong influences on her poetry is mathematician / poet Dan Barbilian / Ion Barbu (1895-1961).  This poem by Cassian illustrates those mathematical influences:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sonnet for a geometry teacher

Wisconsin poet Ronald Wallace has fun with math-words in the following sonnet that celebrates a teacher of plane geometry. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Poems starring mathematicians - 8

Even though Johnny Depp played a mathematician in his recent film, The Tourist, we don't learn much about what mathematicians think or do from that story. Poetry offers more insight. Mathematician and writer Sherman Stein gives us this portrayal:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Self-portrait with numbers

Visual poet Geof Huth  lives and blogs in Schenectady, NY.  In 2010 he turned 50 and early in 2011 he sent me (via snail mail, on smooth white paper) a letter.  The letter is a poem; the poem is a celebration of life, a sort of self-portrait, using numbers.  Geof gave me permission to post it here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Poem and parody -- isomorphic?

In mathematics, algebraic systems that have different objects but the same structure are described as isomorphic.  The parody in poetry illustrates the same idea -- a new poem is created that matches the form of a chosen poem, but uses different words.  For example, here are the opening stanzas of a poem published in 1799 by Robert Southey (1777-1843) that was later parodied by Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Integrals -- a poem

Integrals    by Jonathan Holden

     Erect, arched in disdain,
the integrals drift from left
across white windless pages
to the right,
serene as swans. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hyperbolic effects

Last month I went to the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History -- for a photo scroll down to the end of this post -- and that visit provoked me to begin searching for the term "hyperbolic" in poems.   I came close when I found "hyperbola" in a poem by Jonathan Holden and hyperbole in a sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Poetry inspired by Chaos

Poet Robin Chapman studies the language learning of children -- and has collaborated with physics professor Julien Sprott on a lovely and fascinating collection The Art and Poetry of Chaos:  Images from a Complex World (World Scientific, 2005).  In the following poem Chapman offers (as she does throughout the poetry of the collection) a human interpretation of technical terminology.  

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dr King's dream and Black math students

Today is our public celebration of the January 15 birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr (1929-1968) who was both preacher and poet in the "I have a dream" speech he delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Rather like an elephant

What is mathematics?
          These days I am outside of mathematics looking in and my views of the subject are more complex than during the days when I was a professor and mathematician. Back in my math-prof days -- when I moaned about those who held the view that mathematics is merely computation -- I tried to explain to uncompreheding friends the role of calculation within mathematics with this analogy:  computation is to mathematics as spelling is to poetry.  But those for whom computation is all of their mathematics do not accept this argument.  Indeed, I myself now have the notion that one can navigate life competently without algebra -- much as I get along without Spanish or Chinese. But I regret not knowing them -- they are, like algebra, among the world's important languages.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Geometry and autism

We do not easily describe what goes on inside our own heads and have still greater difficulty seeing into the minds of others.  Pennsylvania poet Barbara Crooker uses images from geometry to help us to see into autism. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tribute to four teachers

Many people offer advice about education--and, in particular, about mathematics education.  I'm skeptical of general pronouncements because my encounters with learning (as student or teacher or parent) have been singular:  one mind meeting another mind for a period of exchange.  Here's a poem that recalls four of my teachers, three of them teachers of mathematics. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Which are "real" numbers?

The adjective "real" in the term "real number" causes confusion for many whose mathematics is casual rather than intense.  I like the mathematical definition of a number as real iff it corresponds to a point on the number line -- for this gives the abstract number a geometric counterpart (an attachment to reality) -- but there are others for whom the reality of a number depends on its emotional connections, perhaps used in ways that poet Ginger Andrews uses numbers in the following poem.  

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mathematics and race

Sherman Alexie is a Spokane / Coeur d’Alene Indian from Wellpinit, Washington. Besides several collections of poetry, Alexie has published novels and short-stories; he wrote the screen-play for the 1998 film, Smoke Signals. Here, in verse, he deals with the mathematics of racial identity:

Monday, January 3, 2011

New poems from old -- by permutation

     One of the founding members of the Oulipo, Jean Lescure (1912-2005), devised categories of permutations of selected words of a poem to form a new poem; three of these rearrangements are illustrated below using the opening stanza of "Mathematics or the Gift of Tongues" by Anna Hempstead Branch (1875-1937). Here is the original stanza from Branch's poem:  

From 2010 -- titles and dates of posts

List of postings  March 23 - December 31, 2010
A scroll through the 12 months of titles below may lead you to topics and poets/poems of interest. Also helpful may be the SEARCH box at the top of the right-hand column; there you may enter names or terms that you would like to find herein.
    Dec 31  The year ends -- and we go on . . .
    Dec 30  Mathematicians are NOT entitled to arrogance
    Dec 28  Teaching Numbers
    Dec 26  Where are the Women?
    Dec 21  A Square for the Season
    Dec 20  "M" is for Mathematics and . . .