Friday, April 29, 2011

Forgetful Number

A lovely poem about more than a number . . .

    Forgetful Number  by Vasko Popa

    Once upon a time there was a number
    Pure and round like the sun
    But lonely very lonely

    It started to calculate by itself 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Perpendicularity -- a symmetric relation

     In 2010 both my October 13 and November 20 posts feature small poems by the French poet Guillevic (1909-97). Strongly drawn to his work, I have purchased the collection Geometries (Englished 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 is one of my favorites from the collection:    

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Attitudes of Numbers

     I like Bruce Snider 's "The Certainty of Numbers" (which you may already have found online at The Poetry Foundation website, featured in the April 14  posting) even though I disagree with the initial attitude toward mathematics expressed by its narrator.  Writing a poem can be a voyage of discovery with the narrator's view flexing as the poem progresses.  
     Snider's poem brings to mind a view of mathematics that repeatedly bothers me:  I wonder why some people -- who would not complain about the fixendess of spellings of "cat" or "dog" or "sum" -- dislike mathematics for the so-called rigidity of  arithmetic facts such as "2 + 4 = 6."  ? ? ?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Earth Day, 2011

      My father, a farmer, was respectful of our earth's resources.  Replenish what you take, he taught.   But some of us consume without replacement as if the earth is infinite in its capacities. 
     When growth is exponential, we may not see its consequences before it is too late.  (Have we already destroyed the balances of nature?)  The following 8 x 8 syllable-square poem restates a oft-used math-textbook question -- and reminds us that little time may be left to solve environmental problems.   

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Two and four and eight and birds

Pennsylvanian Craig Czury works as a travelling poet in schools, homeless shelters, prisons, mental hospitals, and community centers around the world.  Czury sent me the following translation, "Writing Sheet," by Willie Westwood of a poem by Jacques Prévert (1900-1977) -- the original French version  may be found at Westwood's site (scroll down).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Teaching math with a poem

Sarah Glaz is an algebraist (University of Connecticut) who uses poetry to teach mathematics. At her web page, scroll down to "Recent Articles" to see titles and links to three such papers.   One of the articles is "The Enigmatic Number e: A History in Verse and its Uses in the Mathematics Classroom" -- and it contains an annotated version of the poem whose opening stanzas are found below; it's found in the Digital Library of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), Loci:  Convergence (April 2010). 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A picture should extend beyond its frame

Since April is Mathematics Awareness Month -- with theme "Unraveling Complex Systems" -- this blogger has been seeking out poems that embrace "complexity."  Today we have a selection by British poet, novelist, and critic John Fuller from his Newdigate prize-winning poem of 1960, "A Dialogue between Caliban and Ariel.". 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Finding poems with "numbers"

     Here's a quick and enjoyable activity:
     Go to the website for The Poetry Foundation.   Browse for a bit and, when you have completed your look-around, go to the search box toward the upper right and enter the word numbers, then click on the search button to bring a list of results.  On that new page, go to the left column menu and click on Poems.   Enjoy "Number Man" by Carl Sandburg and several other poems.
     When your time permits, search using a second mathematical term, and a third.  Bookmark the site.  April is National Poetry Month and Mathematics Awareness Month.  Celebrate!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Conditional statements

The "If ... , then ... ." statements of mathematical theorems are often termed "conditionals." We have, for example, the conditional, "If x < 3, then x² < 9."  And so on.  Formal conditional statements in a poem can give it the feel of mathematics, even if no mathematical terminology is used.  This is  illustrated in "Omens" by the Romanian poet Marin Sorescu (1936-1996); Sorescu's poem also treats us to word-play  -- with allusions that range from nursery rhymes to religious narratives. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What can mathematics do?

For many, mathematics offers interpretive links between a mind and the truths it seeks to know,  the same role that a story plays in this poem -- "Story Water" -- by Jelaluddin Balkhi Rumi (1207 - 1273). 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A poetic perspective on algebra

     Last Monday (April 4), the Washington Post had an article concerning the value of Algebra II  as a predictor of college and work success.  Since then I have heard numerous successful people point out that they did not have the cited course.   Also on April 4, NPR had a feature on the advantages of being bilingual.   My own mind joined these two stories --  for me, algebra is a second language and has enabled my learning of lots of other things.
Colette Inez 's poem "Forest Children" uses the language of poetry to speak of algebra (and of her concern for shrinking woodlands).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What color is 3?

     Long before there were six-digit hexadecimal codes for color (red #FF0000 or green #000800), there were paint-by-number craft activities.  And there is synaesthesia (syn -joined, aesthesia -sense),  a neurological condition in which two or more senses are connected. For example music might be "seen" in colours and patterns, or taste may have shapes, or letters and numbers have textures.
     Miroslav Holub (1923-98), Czech poet and research scientist (and one of my favorite poets) establishes number-color pairings in the following poem:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

April -- month of poetry and mathematics

April is both National Poetry Month and Mathematics Awareness Month  (with theme this year being "Unraveling Complex Systems").  Today's poem by physicist Richard Feynmann (1918-1988) celebrates both poetry and complexity; from the Epilogue of  Feynman's book, What do you care what other people think?, we have these lines: