Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Coleridge: A Mathematical Problem

 "A Mathematical Problem" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) -- found online at Elite Skills Classics -- uses verse to describe construction of an equilateral triangle; Coleridge introduces the poem with a letter to his brother telling of his admiration of mathematics, a view rather rare among poets.   

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Nightmare of an Unsolved Problem

Back in the 1980s when I first met the Collatz conjecture in a number theory textbook it was stated this way:
     Start with any whole number  n :
          If  n  is even, reduce it by half, obtaining  n/2.
          If n is odd, increase it by half and round up to the nearest whole number, obtaining  3n/2 + 1/2 = (3n+1)/2.   Collatz' conjecture asserts that, no matter what the starting number, iteration of this increase-decrease process will each time reach the number 1.   

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Celebrating Newman's "World of Mathematics"

Lionel Deimel is a database and Web site designer, a steam locomotive enthusiast, a cat lover, an essayist and a poet who maintains an eclectic website entitled Lionel Deimel’s Farrago.  There I found a small poem about one of my most-valued literary treasures, The World of Mathematics, a four-volume collection compiled with commentaries and notes by James R Newman, first printed in 1956. The range of topics is vast and the primary requirement for reading is not calculus but curiosity.  Sections of Volume 4 include "Mathematics in Literature," "Mathematics as a Culture Clue," and "A Mathematical Theory of Art." (You should not be without this fine collection.)    Here is Deimel's poem: 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Counting: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, . . .

At Peter Cameron's Blog, "Counting the things that need to be counted," the July 14, 2010 entry contains a reflective poem entitled "Millenium" which meditates on the ten digits in stanzas whose lengths count them.  Here are the opening stanzas: 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Who are our prophets?

Here is the opening sentence of an article, "Mathematicians and Poets," by Cai Tianxin, a mathematics professor at Zhejiang University -- it appears in the April 2011 issue of Notices of the AMS:

     "Mathematicans and poets exist in our world as uncanny prophets."  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

9 9-square stanzas

In the current (March 21, 2011) issue of The New Yorker (pages 46-47) may be found the poem "Green Farmhouse Chairs" by Donald Hall.  Hall's fine nostalgic poem consists of 9 stanzas; each stanza is "square" -- and has 9 lines with 9 syllables per line.   Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Remembering Pi-day, a day late

Yesterday (3-14) was Pi-day, but my recent thoughts have been focused on my math-teacher son Eric (who has acute pancreatitis) and his family -- and I forgot to post this poem on the proper day.  Thanks to Lana Hechtman Ayers for these opening lines of  "Circumference:  A love poem." 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Teaching Math

When I was a new professor in the 1970s at Bloomsburg University (then Bloomsburg State College) my colleague PH and I discussed our teaching efforts and compared them with the ways we had been taught. We agreed that our university teachers seemed simply to dump mathematics on us in any manner whatever -- believing, it seemed, that those who were "smart enough" would pick it up.  (And other students should study sociology or communications  or the like.)  We and all around us worked to improve our teaching techniques and yet many years later it seems to continue that the privileged -- whether of wealth or education or gender or birthplace or whatever -- seldom see their advantages over those who are different.  And sometimes those of us who try the hardest fail our students because we do too much.  This latter idea led me to write this poem.

Monday, March 7, 2011


On her website Deanna Rubin describes herself this way, "I have a degree in Technical Writing and Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University, and my head is full of random numbers."  Illustrating this latter claim is her poem, "Numerology":    

Friday, March 4, 2011

Journal of Humanistic Mathematics -- V1, Issue 1

A new door has opened for those of us interested in the humanistic aspects of mathematics.  Under the able leadership of editors Mark Huber (Claremont McKenna College) and Gizem Karaali (Pomona College), the idea of the former Humanistic Mathematics Network Journal has been revived and Volume 1 Issue 1 of the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics is now available online.  The inaugural issue contains several poems, including the following one by Caleb Emmons, "Seeing Pine Trees,"  in which Emmons characterizes the views of a poet and a mathematician as two halves of one whole. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Perfect as soap bubbles

An alert to today's poem came from Greg Coxson, a University of Wisconsin-educated, Silver Spring-based, radar engineer who loves mathematics and poetry.  The poem is by Howard Nemerov  (1920-1991) and it builds to a presentation of its perfect mathematical image near its end.