Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fear of math

California poet Carol Dorf is a high school math teacher (and has taught in a science museum) -- and images from math and science permeate her work.  An article on math anxiety (and its connections to the brain) in today's Washington Post brought to my mind this poem of hers: 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hikmet -- painting with numbers

Living is no laughing matter . . . 
These are words of Turkish poet, playwright, novelist and memoirist Nazim Hikmet (1902-63), who spent much of his life in prison or exile for his political beliefs.  In the following poem by Hikmet we see a portrait that builds from the numbers that characterize the landscape of Ibrahim Balaban's painting.  As you read Hikmet's poem, consider the value of numbers in portraiture.  Though they do not have the textures of color nor the movement of lines, numbers have shapes and edges that may much enrich our seeing. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011


   Spacetime     by Miroslav Holub (1932-1998)

   When I grow up and you get small,
   then --

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Personal geometry

We have recently passed the first anniversary of the death (6 May 2010) of Elena Shvarts, one of Russia's finest contemporary poets. Here is her "Poetica -- More Geometrico" (translated into English by Thomas Epstein).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Poems with permutations

     Below, in the May 16 posting, this blog considered all of the permutations of a few words -- in search of "the best" arrangement. Today we illustrate word-permutations in poems.
     First, a few lines from poet Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) -- who was masterful in her distortions of ordinary syntax and in her use of language in new ways. Stein played with both repetition and rearrangement; here is a brief example:

     Money is what words are.
     Words are what money is.
     Is money what words are.
     Are words what money is.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Which is the BEST order?

At Bartleby.com, we find  a quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) which says, in part " ... poetry—the best words in their best order." 

Consider the two orderings of the words "were" and "we." (To choose which is best is not possible until we know more of what the writer wishes to say.)

          We were!
          Were we?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Would rationalists wear sombreros?

This final section of "Six Significant Landscapes," by attorney and insurance executive (and poet) Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), playfully explores the limitations of rigid thinking. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

If p, then q.

     Today's posting (as also on April 13)  presents variations of the conditional statment -- a sentence of the form "If ___, then ___" in which mathematical theorems often are expressed. (For example, "If m is an odd integer, then m² is an odd integer.")   More generally, a conditional is a statement of the form "If p, then q" -- where p and q denote statements. Poet E. C. Jarvis plays with the language of logical statements and with the idiomatic phrase "Mind your p's and q's" in his poem, "A Simple Proposition." 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Poetry generators

Blogger edde addad had an undergraduate major in creative writing -- and later earned a PhD in computer science.  He has written about and created poetry-generating programs. addad is one of the contributors to the blog Gnoetry Daily -- which offers ongoing discussion and examples of collaborative human-computer poetry generation.  Here is  "Mystery" -- a poem generated by eGnoetry (assisted by addad!):

Friday, May 6, 2011

Permuting words and and enumerating poems

Caleb Emmons teaches mathematics at Pacific University.  Here is his very-clever description of the requirements for a poem to be a sestina -- spelled out in a poem that is itself a sestina.  (A sestina has 39 lines and its form depends on 6 words -- arrangements of which are the end-words of 6 6-line stanzas; these same words also appear, 2 per line, in the final 3-line stanza.) 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A jar in Tennessee

     Several of my early insights concerning the connections between poetry and mathematics grew from ideas presented by poet Jonathan Holden -- of whom interviewer Chris Ellis (in 2000) asked this question:
     Ellis:  You have drawn similarities between poetry and mathematics. Can you explain the association or similarity between poetry and math in a way the mathematically challenged can grasp?
     Holden: The "poetry and mathematics" analogy was simply to demonstrate, for those with some mathematical sophistication, that both languages "measure" things.