Monday, October 29, 2012

Greatest common factor

Sometimes a mathematical phrase offers a splendid concentration of meaning in an otherwise non-mathematical poem.  This is the case in the poem below by Taylor Mali, teacher and slam poet. 

Undivided Attention     by Taylor Mali

A grand piano wrapped in quilted pads by movers,
tied up with canvas straps—like classical music’s
birthday gift to the criminally insane—
is gently nudged without its legs
out an eighth‐floor window on 62nd street. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Geometry of Trees

     Donna Masini, one of my poetry teachers at Hunter College, offered this rule of thumb for use of a particular word in a poem:  the word should serve the poem in (at least) two ways -- in meaning and sound, or sound and motion, or motion and image, or  . ..  .
     Richard Wilbur (1921 - ) is a former US Poet Laureate (1987-88), a prolific translator, and one of my favorite poets -- and perhaps this is because he seems to maximize his word-choices with multiple uses.  When I read Wilbur, I see and hear and feel -- and, after multiple readings, these sensory impressions coalesce into understanding.  Here is one of his sonnets, a poem of the geometry of absence:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"On the Life of Ptolemy"

Poetry at its best uses words in new ways.  Mathematics sometimes does that also.  But for a poet to use mathematical terms in new ways can be risky.  Nichita Stanescu (Romania, 1933 - 1983) was a poet unafraid to take that risk.  Here is Sean Cotter's translation of Stanescu's "On the Life of Ptolemy" from the new and fine Stanescu collection, Wheel with a Single Spoke.

     On the Life of Ptolemy     by Nichita Stanescu

     Ptolemy believed in the straight line,
     It exists.
     Count its points and, if you can,
     tell me the number.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Seeking math-poets -- JMM, SanDiego 1-11-13

Call for Readers:
     The Journal of Humanistic Mathematics will host a reading of poetry-with-mathematics at the annual Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM) on Friday, January 11, 5 - 7 PM in Room 3, Upper Level, San Diego Convention Center.  If you wish to attend the reading and participate, please send,  by December 1, 2012 (via e-mail, to Gizem Karaali ( up to 3 poems that involve mathematics (in content or structure, or both) -- no more than 3 pages -- and a 25 word bio.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Teaching math (?maths) is complex

     In the midst of a teaching career in Bloomsburg University I spent a year in an administrative position -- the school needed time to search for a proper provost and I was deemed good enough for the interim.  My good fortune during that year was to work closely with Kalyan, a highly competent man, born in India, who went on (as I did not) to become a college president.  Kalyan and I liked each other and early in the year we shared our views that we were both from "work twice as hard" categories.  That is, a woman or a dark-skinned man needs to work twice as hard as a white man to achieve recognition as the performance-equal of that white man. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Geometry . . . a way of seeing

Today's poem is not only a fine work of art, it is also -- for me-- a doorway to memory.   I first heard it in the poet's voice when he visited Bloomsburg University in the late 1980s,  and I was alerted to the reading and to James Galvin's work by my most dear friend, BU Professor of English Ervene Gulley (1943-2008).   Ervene had been a mathematics major as an undergraduate but moved on from abstract algebra to Shakespeare.  Her compassion, her broad-seeing view, and her fierce logic served her well in the study and teaching of literature.  And in friendship.  I miss her daily.  She, like Galvin, questioned life and probed its geometry.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Puzzle poems from Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker (1731 - 1806) was a free African American mathematician and almanac author -- also an astronomer, surveyor, and farmer. (I learned of his work through my friend Greg Coxson, an engineer, teacher, and fan of mathematical poetry -- and Coxson learned of Banneker through a school project of his son.)  Beyond building a wooden clock and helping to lay out the borders of Washington, DC, Banneker predicted the 1789 solar eclipse and included rhyming math puzzles in his almanac.  Coxson introduced me to a fine website, established by by John F. Mahoney of Washington, DC's Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, entitled The Mathematical Puzzles of Benjamin Banneker.
     Banneker's Almanack had an eclectic mix of astronomy/astrology, medical advice, weather prediction, and other things.  Here's a math-problem-poem from that Almanack -- found, along with others, at Mahoney's site