Wednesday, June 29, 2011

5 x 5 and 6 x 6

Many poets have found the sonnet to be an ideal poetic form -- its iambic pentameter lines are like five heartbeats assembled in a single breath;  its fourteen lines are a good number for considering a matter carefully. My own frequent form is different -- not a sonnet but a square of some or another dimension.   Here are two of my recent syllable-squares.

     I squint with tension,
     puzzle over this:         
     itchy appetites
     are my happiness.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Joys of Mathematics

   The Joys of Mathematics     by Peter Boyle

   At fifty I will begin my count towards the infinite numbers.

   At negative ninety nine I will start my walk towards the
      infinitesimally small.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Creation Myth on a Mobius Band

On the  website of Bert-Jaap Koops, I found this small poem by a poet I admire greatly, Howard Nemerov (1920-1991).

     Creation Myth on a Moebius Band   by Howard Nemerov

     This world’s just mad enough to have been made
     by the Being His beings into Being prayed.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Something for nothing

     Among my favorite mathematical ideas are the seeming-paradoxes -- notions that require a twist and a turn and a leap before one can say "aha."  Using a symbol for "nothing" is one of those leap-requiring ideas.  I don't remember when I first understood zero, but I have enjoyed watching my children -- and now grandchildren -- grapple with ideas of things that are absent rather than present. 
     Here, from Hailey Leithauser, is a poem  that celebrates the cipher. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Circling -- with Rilke

Ranier Maria Rilke (1875-1926) was born in Prague but emigrated to Germany and is one of the great modern lyric poets.   The following Rilke poems draw on images of circles.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Found in Flatland

Over the years I have shared with friends and students my copy of Edwin Abbott's Flatland (first published in England in 1884) and, alas, not all of these other readers have matched my level of excitement with the small volume.  Even though the book's Victorian attitudes are mostly at odds with my own views, still the tiny book opened me to possibilities of new ways of seeing. Since observing the Flatlanders stuck in two dimensions from my advantageous three-dimensional position, I have wondered how I can now make the leap from three to four or more dimensions.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Stanescu - poetic mathematics

Today I found a link to a recent article, "Matematica şi poezia," that considers commonalities among the arts and mathematics and, therein, mentions a poem by Nichita Stanescu (1933-1984) which Gabriel Prajitura and I have translated.  The poem, "Poetic Mathematics," is dedicated to Romanian mathematician Solomon Marcus.  Here is Gabi's and my translation: 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lagrange points

The Italian-French mathematician Josef Lagrange discovered the existence of five special "Lagrange points" (aka Lagrangian points) in the vicinity of two orbiting bodies where a third, smaller body can orbit at a fixed distance from the larger ones. More precisely, Lagrange Points mark positions where the gravitational pull of the two large bodies precisely cancels the centripetal acceleration required to rotate with them. Poet Catherine Daly considers these points in a poem:  

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Counting on things -- a prose poem

Russell Edson is one of the contemporary masters of the prose poem (a poem whose words are organized into paragraphs rather than stanzas). A selection from May Swenson's prose poem (and short novel) "Giraffe" is available in the October 19 blog posting. Here is Edson's poem "One Two Three, One Two Three" -- which considers the secrets hidden inside one's head.  Another mind, even that of one of our children, is a mystery incompletely known to any of us.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Right Triangle

The shape of a poem influences our reading of it -- short lines cause reading with lots of pauses whereas we read long lines quickly to get the entire line completed in a single breath. Moreover, some poetry is intended to be primarily visual -- to be taken in as a seen-image rather than read.  UBU Web offers several example of early visual poetry and one may also explore the  UBU Web site for modern examples.  Visual poetry may also be termed "concrete" poetry; consider, for example, "Concrete Block" by Michael J. Garofalo:

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Math lyrics -- Lehrer et al

Mathematicians with poetic tendency often use their word-talents to write song-lyrics rather than poems; a master of the song-writing art was/is Tom Lehrer.  As an undergraduate at Harvard in the 1940s,  Lehrer majored in mathematics; he is best known for songs he recorded in the 1950s and 1960s.  Here are Lehrer's lyrics for "The Derivative Song" -- written to be sung to the tune of "There'll Be Some Changes Made" (by Benton Overstreet, with original lyrics by Billy Higgins).

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A square poem of Romania

When I'm working on a poem that resists my efforts to express what I must say, sometimes I turn to the square for a rescue -- that is, I attempt to find the best words by re-forming the poem as a square (same number of lines as syllables per line).  That is how I came to the following poem, "The Bear Cave,"  (a 9 x 9 square).