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).

     Forest Children     by Colette Inez

     We heard swifts feeding in air,
     sparrows ruffling dusty feathers,
     a tapping on stones, mud, snow, pulp
     when rain came down, the hiss of fire.
     Counting bird eggs in a dome of twigs,
     we heard trees fall and learned
     to name them on a page for school.

     And living among trees, in the shadows
     of their leaves and seeds, we had
     the mystery of numbers, we believed,
     from figuring angles of the sun
     or counting stumps in a widening field.
     Each day saws subtracted boughs
     for books of double algebra, equations
     in a text we carried home
     past hacked down pines.

     Conjuring the spirit of the grove,
     in a circle we sang:
     “Mark out planes of shade and light
     that seedlings might root.”
     One morning in spring
     trees showed winter skeletons
     through smoke, abrupt curves, bent oak.
     We were stripped of words to cast a spell.
     “Algebra cadabra,” someone shouted
     pointing to a vanished nest
     we remembered as braided of moss,
     ivy tendrils and spider’s silk.

“Forest Children” is from  Inez's collection Getting Under Way: New and Selected Poems (Story Line Press, 1993). The opening lines of "Algebra" by Linda Pastan may be found in the 16 August 2010 posting.

No comments:

Post a Comment