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"?

Sixth cosmogony     by Judy Roitman

Light into heat form spreading into itself within the room shiver & consequence all space differentiated.

Within ease already turning you cannot catch it in this way flowers and trains the last dog stepped into the vacuum all space arising.

Preshadowing circular moment to rest therein as cradled such ease the hand trailing from the boat relaxed fingers as eddies form and within them.

Call and shadow as sound needs medium her hair swept into corners shaping room as sky invisible unending within the bird's nest no takers.

No takers resting within shadow each turn unending
& various as light and breath resolve within each other eyes turned to follow.

Such delicacy of ears and fingers each toe accounted for and the myriad vessels hidden nothing lost.

All is not lost each piece of wood fitted the eye rests on pattern
& breath carried head still heart moment air shaped patternless as floor just as unknowable.

Hand reaching hand deep breath
& pause before: irrevocable.

I found this poem, along with several others by Judy Roitman, at Locus Point.
     For brief discussion concerning the mathematical and other meanings of word "random" in poems, visit this 5 December 2012 posting. 
     For a fine website highlighting women in science, visit Under the Microscope.  One of their recent stories highlights the selection in 2012 of Columbia University mathematician Maria Chudnovsky for a MacArthur Genius Award.


  1. "are mathematical meanings part of what you think of any time that you hear a math term" - I fear so. Not with terms like "group", but with "iterate", "parameters", etc. And of course I'm grumpy when sci/math terms are misused - "light-years away"; "fractal energy" etc.

  2. Oops - I meant "light-years ago"!