Sunday, March 31, 2013

What are the odds -- of a kiss?

Virginia poet Bernadette Geyer has a new (2013) poetry book, The Scabbard of Her Throat -- and I have been exploring these engaging poems of family and fantasy.  And finding among them this mathy poem, "Odds":

Odds     by Bernadette Geyer

Eighty percent of all plane crashes occur in the first
three minutes or in the last minute of the flight.

The odds of winning the lottery are 1 in 18 million
but you can't win if you don't play.  In Peru,

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Your Favorite Number

In the Washington, DC area's Beltway Poetry Quarterly, edited by Kim Roberts, I recently found this lively number-poem by Pennsylvania poet Barbara DeCesare in the Summer 2012 issue that features poets in the federal government.  Enjoy.

     Your Favorite Number   by Barbara DeCesare

     I hope you have a damn good reason
     because when you let a number like that in,
     it’ll turn on you so fast.
     36: spine on spine, a grudge,
     a house divided, half-sisters,
     or the twins,

Monday, March 25, 2013

Counting syllables -- and allowing abortions

In a perfect world in which every pregnancy is wanted and every life supported with love, there would be no need for abortion.  As I work toward that world, I have penned this small syllable-square poem of concern about the vulnerability of young lives.

       36 Syllables       by JoAnne Growney

       More than abortion, fear
       unwanted lives -- saddest
       consequence for children
       conceived without a plan
       for parenting.  There is
       more than one way to die.  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Marianne Moore -- counting syllables

     Currently (until 28 April, 2013) at the National Portrait Gallery is an exhibit of video and audio portraits of a selection of American Poets -- browsing on the gallery's website I found here today (and related to the exhibit) a recording Marianne Moore's "Bird-Witted."
     Marianne Moore (1887-1972) was one of my first-loves in poetry.  Her line in "Poetry" about presenting for inspection "imaginary gardens with real toads in them" became my goal also.  And when I discovered that her poems frequently were constructed by counting syllables I began to consider that strategy.  These opening stanzas of "The Fish," found in its entirety at, illustrate Moore's interesting stanza-designs based on syllable-count-patterns.

              The Fish     by Marianne Moore   

1            wade
3            through black jade.
9                 Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
6                 adjusting the ash-heaps; 

8 or 9                opening and shutting itself like

Monday, March 18, 2013

Power of a theorem

My poetry-math colleague Sarah Glaz has sent me the following pantoum -- which she says was inspired by Ken Yee's pantoum posted in this blog on 6 March 2013Thanks, Sarah, for this poem that not only involves permutations of lines but which also aptly connects the adventure of exploring mathematics with the adventure of self-exploration.  Bravo!

A pantoum for the power of theorems      by Sarah Glaz

          The power of the Invertible Matrix Theorem lies
          in the connections it provides among so many important
          concepts… It should be emphasized, however, that the
          Invertible Matrix Theorem applies only to square matrices.

                                           ―David C. Lay, “Linear Algebra”


The power of a theorem lies
In the connections it provides
Among many important concepts
Under a certain set of assumptions  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Number gives things a body . . .

Poet Stephanie Strickland majored in mathematics as an undergraduate and she uses mathematical imagery freely in her work  -- in a career that has included pioneering leadership in creating and understanding electronic literature.  The following paper-and-ink poem, "Numberbody," is part of a collection that celebrates and illuminates the French philosopher Simone Weil.

     Numberbody     by Stephanie Strickland

     The world stained to the bone raven blue
     with mathematics as an embryo 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Celebrate 3.14 with poems of Pi

     Soon this year's version of the date 3.14 will arrive.  Pi-day!
     At the 2012 Bridges Conference in Towson MD I had the opportunity to hear "Art of π," a presentation by Tatiana Bonch-Osmolovskaya that told of ways that the special number π has inspired artists and writers.  This blog has previously celebrated π -- for example on 6 September 2010 (featuring work by Kate Bush,  Robert Morgan and Wislawa Szymborska),  10 September 2010 (mnemonics for π, especially from Mike Keith) , 15 March, 2011,(a poem by Lana Hechtman Ayers)  27 November 2011 (a poem by Brian McCabe). 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Many Worlds, in a Pantoum

Permutations of lines and rhymes play with sound and meaning in ways that enhance both.  I particularly like the pantoum form. Hearing each line a second time -- with a new context shifting the meaning -- is an experience I particularly enjoy. This one is by Kenton Yee, a theoretical physicist working in finance, who writes both fiction and poetry.

The Many Worlds Interpretation of Classical Mechanics 

                   by Kenton K. Yee

Everything that can happen does.
She leaves work early
as a crackhead jumps off a bus.
A drunk runs a red light, barely.   

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A mathematician, a poet, a woman

When I contacted University of Kansas mathematician Judith Roitman for permission to include her poem "Sixth Cosmogony" in this poetry-math blog she was quick to point out that this is not really a mathy poem. For example, the math term "differentiated" in the first stanza of the poem is not being used in its mathematical sense. However, my motivations for including the poem remain. First, and quite important: this is a poem by a mathematician who is also a woman and a poet. Second, I am interested in mathematicians' reactions to seeing math terms in non-mathematical contexts; are mathematical meanings part of what you think of any time that you hear a math term such as "differentiate" or "factor" or "commute"?