Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Echoes of childhood rhymes

For those of us who live and breathe mathematics, there is much of it that affects us deeply.  Even those of us whose mathematics is mostly arithmetic have a literature of number that we hold close .  And does anything affect us more than the counting rhymes of our childhood?  Washington, DC poet Rosemary Winslow uses emotionally-charged repetition of nursery-rhyme numbers to help us know incest in "Four Five Six." 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How much for a digit of PI?

Scottish poet Brian McCabe writes playfully of numbers.  In the following poem he imagines an auction of the digits of π.

   Three Point One Four One Five Nine Two
   Six Five Three Five Eight Nine Seven Nine
   Three  Two Three Eight Four Six Two Six
       Four Three Three Eight Three Two
         Seven Nine Five Zero Two Eight             by Brian McCabe 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Open and Closed -- Tomas Transtromer

A background in mathematics gives my enchantment with words a special twist. Each time I see familiar math terms in a poem I layer their mathematical meanings amid their mainstream ones. Two such terms are "open" and "closed." (I'll supply brief mathematical explanation at the end of this post but, first, here is "Open and Closed Spaces" -- a poem by the winner of the 2011 Nobel prize  for Literature, Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer. )

Monday, November 21, 2011

Reading the Rubaiyat

Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) was a mathematician who wrote poetry.  Here are two quatrains from his Rubaiyat.


   For in and out, above, about, below,
   'Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show
        Play'd in a Box whose Candle is the Sun
   Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.  

Friday, November 18, 2011


In telling the time, we commonly refer to hours that differ by a multiple of 12 using the same number. Sixty hours after 3 o'clock it is again 3 o'clock. The clock relationship -- with its times that are named by the same number but are not, after all, exactly the same -- illustrates the mathematical notion of an "equivalence relation." In "Equivalencies," the insights of poet Judith McCombs stretch this mathematical concept.

Equivalencies     by Judith McCombs

The fear of not writing, of having no words,

Is the muscles not working, the pack top-heavy,
the hard slime on ledges where the ankle gives way

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Portrait of Max Dehn

Today I offer a poem by Portuguese mathematician F. J. Craveiro de Carvalho -- its initial English publication was in Topology Atlas, 2005 -- about an outstanding mathematician, Max Dehn. Dehn inhabited Craveiro's office via a Springer-Verlag Poster.  Here is a portion of  Craveiro's introduction to the poem.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Portraits of a mathematician

Ideas for this posting began with my post on 30 October 2011 in which I selected 7 favorite lines of poetry as a sort of self-portrait.  That posting led to an exchange with blogger Peter Cameron -- which prompted me to write these abecedarian portraits of a mathematician.

   I know a mathematician . . .     by JoAnne Growney  

   always busy
   counting, doubting
   every figured guess,
   haply idling,
   juggling, knowing
   logic, measure, n-dimensions,

   playful quests,
   resolutely seeking theorems,
   unknowns vanish :
   wrong xs, ys -- zapped. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mathematics of desire

Last Monday evening, I listened with pleasure to Pennsylvania (Fogelsville) poet Barbara Crooker read at Cafe Muse (with Meredith Davies Hadaway and Erin Murphy). Barbara writes fine poems -- and reads them well. Although she offered no mathematical poems that evening, hearing her reminded me to hunt for her love poem "The Irrational Numbers of Longing . . " and to offer it to you here:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mathematician-Poet Glaz

     Sarah Glaz, a professor-mathematician at the University of Connecticut -- and a poet -- is at the forefront of appreciation and advocacy of mathematics as an art and closely connected to other arts, particularly poetry.  Her webpage offers more than a hundred links to "Undergraduate Resources; Math Links for Information and Fun" and to scholarly articles that offer teachers and students math-poetry ideas to ponder carefully.  This link, for example goes to an article entitled "The Poetry of Prime Numbers" that Glaz presented at the Bridges 2011 Conference in Portugal.
     One of my favorites of Glaz' poems is this one whose structure relies on the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic (see note following the poem).  Here is "January 2009"  :

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Four colors will do

     As I work with Gizem Karaali, an editor of the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, to plan a reading of mathematical poetry at the JMM (Joint Mathematics Meetings) in Boston on 6 January 2012, my thoughts return to a poetry reading that I helped to organize at JMM in Baltimore in 1992. One of the participants was a friend and former colleague, Frank Bernhart, whose work is guided by the rhythm pattern of a well-known song.
     Bernhart is an expert on the Four-Color Theorem and his poem celebrates its history -- including consideration of its proof (in 1976) by Kenneth Appel and Wolfgang Haken. (The theorem asserts that any map drawn on a flat surface or on a sphere requires only 4 colors to ensure that no regions sharing a boundary segment have the same color.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Division by zero

The November 2011 issue of the Scottish ezine, The Bottle Imp, is just out and it includes my review of poet Brian McCabe's Zero (Polygon, 2009). To stir your interest, I include a few lines from McCabe's title poem (which chronicles the irregular history of zero) -- and then offer a human interpretation of division by zero in a poem by Ann McNeal.