Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Is your favorite poet a mathematician?

     The Joint Mathematics Meetings in Boston last week gave a fine opportunity for me to connect with both mathematicians and poets, old friends and new ones. And to enjoy a celebration of the connections between poetry and mathematics. In the January 6 poetry reading sponsored by the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, there was much fine poetry. Several of the poems were by Carol Dorf -- whose work was read by Elizabeth Langosy, executive editor of the online literary magazine, TalkingWriting.  Good reads in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of TalkingWriting include both Dorf's introduction to some featured math-connected poems -- entitled "Why Poets Sometimes Think in Numbers" -- and Langosy's  impressions of the math-poetry reading.    
     The Boston poetry event (co-organized by Gizem Karaali) reminds me of another reading twenty years ago -- in January 1992, Alvin White and I hosted a poetry reading at JMM in Baltimore.  One of my favorite poems from that time was by American University professor Dan Kalman, "Ode to a Triangular Matrix."  I offer it here:

Ode to a Triangular Matrix      by Dan Kalman

Oh, thou three corner array, noblest of matrices:
   Thy divine figure reveals itself
   reflected in multiple zeros
   exclaiming your secrets in proud display.

Where the common matrix guards its determinant
   as a potent talisman
   never to be revealed,
save after careful incantation,
   arcane mutterings,
   unending and errorless calculation,
You, oh forthright soul of linearity
   requiring merely a show of sincerity,
   a token computation,
willingly exhibit your psyche's key elements
   worn in a bold slash,
   yea, a sash,
and whose product, your determinant
   is offered for our edification.

The chaotic matrix
   whose aspect is disordered
has at its core,
   its very kernel,
   a confused maze of conflicting directions.
Lest we come to know its true
   meaning, worth, rank,
   it hides this kernel from our sight,
misleading and confusing us,
   annihilating enemies in secret alleyways
   and under cover of night.

But you, three sided paragon,
   disdain such rank duplicity;
   declaim your true intentions;
show every multiplicity
   the measure of your heart, your soul,
   your innermost dimensions.

And there is no mistake about the values that you hold.
With characteristic candor that is striking to behold,
and without undue modesty, your honesty is tangible:
your values worn for all to see with pride on your diagonal.

And you and all your fellows faithful ever do remain
you multiply together and your offspring are the same,
and in all your combinations, too, your virtues are unchanged.

Indeed, you are a model for the race of matrix kind,
   In simple fact,
   In artful grace,
   In guileless art,
   In graceful form,
You show this humble student all that he could hope to find.

Kalman's poem was first published in Issue #7 of the Humanistic Mathematics Network Journal.  It also is available on his webpage.

1 comment:

  1. Hi JoAnne. This may be of interest - it's a blog about an inspirational mathematician that I met recently and includes a poem called Mathematics for Poets.