Next year's JMM will be in Baltimore, MD during January 15-18, 2014.
There will be a poetry reading -- details will be posted here when they're available.
Coleman's comment and her poem illustrate one of the ongoing dilemmas for mathematicians. How to be poetic and also to inlcude the careful detail that mathematics requires. Many poems that delight non-mathematicians give a shudder to a mathematician because mathematical terms have been used with "poetic license" rather than with precision.
Many items of mathematics are poetry -- elegant principles, theorems, and proofs that offer a mathematician that repeatable whole-self reaction that comes from a fine poem. But it is very difficult to translate mathematics into English and preserve mathematical beauty. (Here, for example, is a link to a proof proposed as a poem.)
Group: n. collection, cluster, set, assembly
by Sandra DeLozier Coleman
“Define a group,” the student asks.
(I hope I’m equal to the task
of showing that by “group” is meant
more than a set of elements.)
We’ll need a set that’s well-defined,
where pairs of elements combined
are members of the set as well.
(He’s with me, so far, I can tell.)
The rule for forming combinations
Must hold for all associations,
Is not a real necessity.
Except for the identity.
(But that’s a special case you see!)
Indeed, this member of the set
Is that peculiar element,
Which paired with any other there
Returns the other of the pair.
What’s more each member of the set
Must have a partner element,
Which pair combined must always be
This very same identity.
The student looks a little dazed.
Now, is he lost or just amazed?
A note to the non-mathematical reader: Often a "mathematical group" is introduced as a partnership between a set and an operation; that partnership must have four properties -- outlined in Coleman's poem and typically known by these names: Closure, Associativity, Identity and Inverses. (For example, the integers partnered with addition form a group; the integers partnered with subtraction do not form a group.)
Coleman has, in addition to her own poetry, an ongoing project of translating into English poetry and other writing by the very fine Russian mathematician Sophia Kovalevsky (1850-1891).