Tuesday, July 31, 2012

For Hazlett -- an Exquisite Corpse poem

At the recent BRIDGES Math-Art Conference at Towson University, I led a Sunday afternoon Poetry-with-Mathematics Workshop.  One of our writing topics was women mathematicians and, using material from a richly varied website of biographies of math-women, supported by Agnes Scott College, we workshop participants read a bio of Olive Clio Hazlett (1890-1974) and each wrote sentences of the form "This woman . . . " which I have assembled and and slightly edited into the following poem.

Olive Clio Hazlett    

     by BRIDGES 2012 Poetry-with-Mathematics Workshop participants
This woman was born in 1890.
This woman received a PhD from the University of Chicago 
     in 1915.
This woman's dissertation concerned nilpotent algebras and 
     it was published in the American Journal of Mathematics.
This woman did research at Harvard.
This woman taught at Mt Holyoke but was dissatisfied 
     with the time allowed for research.
This woman served twelve years as editor of the Transactions
     of the American Mathematical Society.
This woman was unhappy.
This woman taught algebra and differential and integral calculus 
     at the University of Illinois and differentiated herself.
This woman complained about assignments to teach 
     large service courses.
This woman wrote more papers than any other
     pre-1940 American woman mathematician.
This woman wore her hair in a bun and, during lectures, 
     wisps of hair hung down around her face.
This woman's manner frightened students.
This woman was unhappy.
This woman taught mathematics to Paul Halmos.
This woman suffered mental illness.
This woman wrote the article on "quaternions" 
     for the 14th edition of Encyclopedia Britannica.
This woman took a leave for war work during 1944-45.
This woman lived 83 years. 

Contributors to this Exquisite Corpse poem --  a poem with lines written by multiple authors who are writing without knowing what the others are saying -- include these members of the BRIDGES 2012 poetry workshop:       
     Drew, Janice, JoAnne, Justin, Laura, Marion, Sarah, and Tatiana.  
After the workshop, one of the students remarked that in our group poem she felt at ease mentioning "negative" qualities such as "dissatisfied" and "unhappy" whereas, if she had been writing the poem on her own, she might have felt obliged to keep all of the statements positive.  This comment is something I will ponder about.  My first thought is to agree that the group authorship offers a sort of freedom.

The website author for the biographical material used for developing the poem is Lawrence "Larry" Riddle of Agnes Scott College. The source biography is found here

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