Sunday, December 30, 2012

A chance encounter

     I invite you to celebrate the coming of the new year 2013 with a poem I like a lot.
     Alberta poet Alice Major produces poems that feel good in the mouth when you read them aloud.   As in "Locate the site," offered below.   From the repeated t's in her title and the c's in her epigraph to her closing lines with "accept / the guidance of whatever calculating god / has taken you in care," I hugely enjoy the vocal experience of reading Major's words; and that pleasure enhances their meaning.  That her terms often are mathy adds still more enjoyment.

Locate the site     by Alice Major

      To find a city, make a chance encounter

The plane sails in above the setter-coloured fields
swathed in concentric lines of harvest,
circle on square.  I find myself returning
to this place that wasn't home.

Friday, December 28, 2012


Those who know mathematics but do not immerse in it daily often use its terms in contexts that surprise and delight.  I smiled with appreciation when I found, in Issue 25 (December 2011-2012) of 6x6, "The Life of Explorers" by Fani PapageorgiouUgly Duckling Presse has given me permission to include parts II, IV, and VI (of eleven parts) here.

from    The Life of Explorers     by Fani Papageorgiou

     II.     On the Method of Trial and Error

If a dog with a long stick in its jaws wants to get through a door,
he will twist and turn his head until he achieves his goal.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Street Sense is "The DC Metro Area Street Newspaper" and it is available from vendors in the Washington, DC area -- vendors who are struggling not to be homeless, vendors who are earning 50 cents for each $1 copy that they sell, vendors who are writing POETRY.

In the September 26 - October 10, 2012 issue of Street Sense, I found this mathy poem by Street Sense vendor Veda Simpson, "Think You Know Everything?"  Please ENJOY the poem and, if you are able, support this worthy publication.

Think You Know Everything       by Veda Simpson, Street Sense Vendor  

Monday, December 24, 2012

Star, shine bright!

Be our

For more visual poetry of Christmas, enjoy a visit to Bob Grumman's Guest Blog posting for Scientific American.  Thanks, Bob, and Happy Holiday wishes to all.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Skating (with math) on Christmas

     Found at, a lovely poem of ice skating and mathematics and Christmas by Cynthia Zarin; the title is "Skating in Harlem, Christmas Day."   Perhaps some day I will have completed all the paper work and the waiting required by Knopf and Random House to gain permission to offer herein Zarin's poem (from The Watercourse (2002) ) -- but, for now, please enjoy it by following the link I have given above.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The magic of "i"

 An exciting math event occurred last week -- the opening of MoMath
a Manhattan museum that makes math fun.
Still thinking about complex and imaginary numbers (see Sue VanHattum's poem in the December 16 posting), I want to offer a couple of stanzas by Paul Hartal -- selected from "Voyage around the Square Root of Minus 1"  -- stanzas that are part of a lengthy consideration of connections between the arts and the sciences.  I do not always agree with Hartal's viewpoints -- but they are interesting to consider.

from  Voyage around the Square Root of Minus One     by Paul Hartal 

. . .  Mathematical equations are embedded
       with mysterious forces
       and their uncanny power transcends
       the cognitive faculties of the human mind.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Imagine new numbers

     As a child I wrote poems but abandoned the craft until many years later when I was a math professor; at that later time some of my poems related to ideas pertinent to my classroom.  For Number Theory classes "A Mathematician's Nightmare" gave a story to the unsolved Collatz conjecture; in Abstract Algebra "My Dance Is Mathematics" gave the mathematical history a human component.  
     My editor-colleague (Strange Attractors), Sarah Glaz, also has used poems for teaching --  for example, "The enigmatic number e."  And Marion Cohen brings many poems of her own and others into her college seminar course, "Truth & Beauty: Mathematics in Literature."  Add a west-coaster to these east-coast poet-teachers -- this time a California-based contributor: teacher, poet, and blogger (Math Mama Writes) Sue VanHattum.  VanHattum (or "Math Mama") is a community college math teacher interested in all levels of math learning.  Some of her own poems and selections from other mathy poets are available at the Wikispace, MathPoetry, that she started and maintains. Here is the poet's recent revision of a poem from that site, a poem about the invention (or discovery?) of imaginary numbers.

Imaginary Numbers Do the Trick      by Sue VanHattum    

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The important 1 (multiplicative identity)

On this day 12/12/12, I have heard much media discussion concerning coincidences of number.  My own thoughts continue to examine the multiple meanings of "identity."  Here is a lovely tanka by Izumi Shikibu (b 976?) that focuses on the importance of one:

       This heart,
       longing for you,
       to a thousand pieces--
       I wouldn't lose one.

From The Ink Dark Moon:  Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan (Vintage Books, 1990), translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Loss of Identity

     Some of the richness of a poem comes from the multiple meanings available for the poet's words.  We read "line" and think of the geometric straight thing and of the type of work a person does and of a particular list of products and  . . .   .    For mathematicians, a given term may have a precise mathematical specification that trumps all the others.  (See, for example, the discussion of "random" in the 5 December 2012 posting.)
     A math term that especially interests me poetically is "identity."  One has a unique "identity" and experiences "identity theft" or an "identity crisis"  --  each time I hear the word my cross-referencing brain links to the mathematical notion of identity.  In the integers, the element zero, 0, is an identity for addition since 0 added to any integer produces no change.  Likewise, 1 is an identity for multiplication since 1 multiplied by any integer produces no change.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

That's so random! (NPR, OEDILF, etc.)

     One of the challenges I face in friendly conversations is not to overreact to a "misuse" of the word random.  When I hear someone use that word to describe events that are peculiar or haphazard my heart-rate rises in protest.  It is as if I am in math class where every term has one, quantifiable definition -- my use of random describes a situation when a variety of things may happen and all of them are equally likely.  Like when a fair coin is tossed, or a die.  Or when a lottery ticket is selected.
     Recently my attitude was aired nationally. Sort of.  On Friday, November 30, NPR's Evening Edition featured a discussion of random.  Written by commentator Neda Ulaby, "That's So Random:  The Evolution of an Odd Word" mentions the 1995 film "Clueless," a comedian (Spencer Thompson), the Hacker's Dictionary  -- and also includes comments from the Oxford English Dictionary's editor, Jesse Sheidlower. I am rethinking my stubborn position.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Rearranging words

After posting, on November 15, three stanzas by Darby Larson -- three of the more than six quadrillion stanzas that result from arrangements (permutations) of eighteen selected words --  I decided to try my own arranging.  Here are two results.

       noise is angry morning                          Arrangement 1
       surely hung suppose beads
       in windy eyes there's your what
       wake-up and the sway