Tuesday, August 30, 2011

This plane of earthly love

Poet Joan Mazza celebrates qualities mathematical: 

   To a Mathematician Lover     by Joan Mazza

   As we embark on this plane
   of earthly love, I should explain,
   my experiences with men
   have doubled my troubles
   and halved my pleasures,
   divided my time into fractions

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Earthquake and Hurricane

It would not be easy to argue that a poem whose numbers merely identify its stanzas is "mathematical" but "Curriculum Vitae," found at poets.org and written by Pullitzer Prize winning poet Lisel Mueller, also contains the words "earthquake" and "hurricane" and thereby is significant on this Saturday in Silver Spring -- five days after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake damaged both the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral and on the very day that millions of us are watching the progress of Hurricane Irene as it storms north along the eastern coast of the US. In acknowledgment of these days, I invite you to read this fine poem:

Friday, August 26, 2011

350: Science --> Poetry --> Music

350 parts per million is the "safe upper limit" for CO2 in our atmosphere presented by NASA scientist Jim Hansen in December 2007 and widely agreed upon.  From that number 350.org .was born. On October 24, 2009, 350 Poems celebrated an international day of climate action with a posting, from poets all around the world, of 350 poems of 3.5 lines each --  each responding to concern for man-made climate change. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A thousand and fifty-one waves

Twenty-five years ago I had an enormous appetite for poems by Stevie Smith (1902-1971).  I loved the way that they seemed so unstudied -- playful and yet spot on and profound.    Smith did not use much mathematics in her poetry, but she wrote this poem, "Numbers." 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Half-twist and link -- in a Sestina

     Mobius strip       by Heidi Willamson

     A simple science trick to try at home.
     Half-twist a slip of paper. Link the ends
     to make an ‘O’. Take a pencil, trace a line that loops
     the shape formed by the surface. See
     how the in and out sides merge. The join
     tangles dimensions. There’s no front or back.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lieber's INFINITY -- poetic prose

It has surprised me to discover that some of my best-remembered learning took place at the hands of teachers I did not particularly like.  One of these was a professor who introduced me, via outside reading assignments, to books by Lillian R. Lieber (1886-1986).  Her free-verse-style lines in Infinity:  Beyond the Beyond the Beyond gave me insights into the calculus I had recently completed as well as the set theory of my current course. (Lieber wrote not just as a mathematician but also as a human being, as a wonderfully informed and openly opinionated person.  For this, too, I treasure her work.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Some cat!

My title is a borrowing from E. B. White's Charlotte's Web -- which I saw recently with grandchildren at Glen Echo Park's Adventure Theater. It (the title above) refers to my wonderful Himlayan, Noah, who lived to 15 years and 3 months;  this posting is done in his memory.  Herein we connect cats with mathematics.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The hypotenuse of an isosceles triangle

Detroit poet, Philip Levine, has been selected as the new Poet Laureate of the United States. Selected by the librarian of Congress (James Billington), Levine follows poet W. S. Merwin in the honored position.  A Poet Laureate is responsible merely for giving readings in October and May but some laureates also use the position to proselytize for poetry.   Here, from Levine's early collection, What Work Is (Knopf, 1992), is a poem that looks back on a math-art moment in a middle-school classroom.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Can a mathematician see red?

Held late in July, this year's 2011 Bridges (Math-Arts) Conference in Coimbra, Portugal included a poetry reading for which I'd been invited to read but was, at the last minute, unable to attend. (See also 26 July 2011). Poets Sarah Glaz and Emily Grosholz each, however, read favorite selections from my work.  Glaz read one of my square poems, "The Bear Cave" (see 19 June 2011) and Grosholz read the poem shown below, "Can a Mathematician See Red?"

Friday, August 5, 2011

Banach's Match Box Problem

A poetry collection by Susan Case (see also 5 July 2011 posting)  -- The Scottish Cafe (Slapering Hole Press, 2002) -- celebrates the lives and minds of a group of mathematicians in Poland during World War II. Its observations and insights add a new dimension to the important story of the Scottish Book to which it refers -- a book in which the mathematicians reorded their problems and solutions. First published in a mimeographed edition in 1957 by Stanislaw Ulam, The Scottish book: mathematics from the Scottish Café (Birkhäuser, 1981) may now be seen and searched at GoogleBooks.  Case's collection includes statements of two of the Scottish Book's problems:  here, below, is "problem 193" -- which I offer as a "found poem."  A photo of its Scottish Book solution follows.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cantor Ternary Set

The second issue of the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics has recently been posted -- with more new poemsThe first issue contained a poem by Philip Holmes about one of the most amazing collections of numbers in all of mathematics, the  Cantor Ternary SetThis set, discovered by Henry John Stephen Smith (1826-1883) but popularized by Georg Cantor (1845-1918) consists of all the real numbers whose base 3 or ternary representations involve only the digits 0 and 2. Like a fishing net, the Cantor Ternary Set is mostly holes. "Gaps" by Philip Holmes spreads it out before us -- and reflects on what else it may represent:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Puzzle play

In volume 4 of The World of Mathematics (James R Newman, Editor; Dover 2003), in a section entitled "Amusements, Puzzles, and Fancies," is an essay by Edward Kasner and James R. Newman entitled "Pastimes of Past and Present Times." This piece is prefaced by a quote from Mark Twain: "Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do." One of the characteristics that mathematicians and poets have in common  is that both enjoy mind-play -- mental adventures with ideas or numbers or words, dancing and shaping into some new thing.