Thursday, April 12, 2012

Math or poetry -- must one choose?

April celebrates poetry and mathematics -- it being both National Poetry Month and Mathematics Awareness Month -- and this year's math-theme is "Mathematics, Statistics, and the Data Deluge."  What better way to mark these joint occasions than with a poem of statistics.  I first learned of Eveline Pye -- a lively and interesting Glasgow statistician, teacher, and poet -- through "Eveline Pye: Poetry in Numbers"  in the September 2011 issue of the statistics magazine, Significance.  Here is one of the poems found therein, aptly titled "Statistics."

     Statistics       by Eveline Pye

     A computer printout

     A stack of paper
     Like a shallow box
     Filled with facts
     Inviting me
     To join them

     I slide my fingers
     Between overlapping sheets
     And browse between the columns
     Letting numbers lead me
     Into dark tunnels

     Until pictures appear
     On cave walls and
     Trends emerge
     Out of random rock

     A journey into uncertainty
     Borehole deep
     Below superficial knowledge
     I search for a richer vein

"Statistics" previously appeared in Orbis. In "Eveline Pye: Poetry in Numbers" author Julian Champkin gives us this quote from Pye, telling us how she chose mathematics over poetry.  

     I had an English teacher who
     told me I should read English
     and a maths teacher who told me
     I should read maths. It was a hard one, 
     but I decided that maths 
     would give me more freedom.

I keep thinking about these words.

Wislawa Szymborska's poem, "A Contribution to Statistics" was posted on 2 February 2012.  A posting of Mathematics Awareness Month activities may be found here.  And check out other poetry conversations happening this National Poetry Month at Couplets where poet and blogger Joanne Merriam is featuring a guided tour of a variety of poetry blogs.

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