Sunday, June 30, 2013

Miroslav Holub -- "what use is it?"

     In earlier postings I have expressed my admiration for the Czech poet Miroslav Holub (1923-1998)  -- a research scientist who also wrote fine poetry.  In a biographical sketch of Holub at, the poet is quoted as saying, " . . . I'm afraid that, if I had all the time in the world to write my poems, I would write nothing at all."   There is no agreed standard for the amount of time  to spend on a creative work.  Many poets devote their full time to their craft;  others fear over-writing and strictly limit their writing and editing.  In each aspect of our lives it is possible to do too much or too little thinking about things.  And so it goes.
      My post on 5 April 2013 linked to several math-related Holub poems.  And here is another; in "Magnetism," Holub focuses on the sometimes-silly, sometimes-practical, sometimes-too-limiting question often put to mathematics or science, "what use is it?"

Magnetism     by Miroslav Holub

Thursday, June 27, 2013

17-word Haiku

     On 25 May 2013 this blog contained an announcement of NASA's Haiku-to-Mars contest.  The contest rules are here -- and July 1 is the deadline for submission.  Voting to select three favorite submissions will begin on July 15.  For my own submission I decided to use numerical constraints -- I limited my Haiku to one-syllable words and used an increasing-decreasing pattern of the lengths of words.  Here is an example (not the one I submitted, which begins "I go for Mars . . .").

A is the sign first
spread through thoughts –- stretched, breathed, squared, sighed.
Trace thru all to Z.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Symmetric squares

Sometimes we find meaning among disparate objects when they are juxtaposed. Here are nine words I have chosen because of the ways they are spelled. Using them to form two squares. Are my squares poems?

     S A F E
     A R E A
     F E A R
     E A R N

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Why is SHE less known? . . .

Sometimes matching words to a syllable-count helps to bring focus to my musings.  Here are two stanzas for which I used the Fibonacci numbers as lengths for the lines I built as I considered the continuing invisibility of most math-women. (I have some hope that the second of these is primarily remembering -- and is not true of family child-care today.)

8-5-3-2-1-1    A FIB

HE is famous but SHE is not.
Yet we once judged her

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Balancing an Equation

     I grew up on a farm and spent my middle life in a small town and now live in a city.  A sort of immigrant.  A farm girl who became a professor.  A balancing act.
     Some years back, one of my math department colleagues posted on his office door a quote from George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) :   

     The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists 
     in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends 
     on the unreasonable man.

At one time I much agreed with the Shaw quote.  Now (perhaps because I am older or because I now live near to Washington, DC and contentious party politics) I am more admiring of balance than unreasonableness.  Here is a lovely poem by Caroline Caddy about balance and numbers. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

What is not possible?

     It is impossible for a number to be greater than 2 if it is not greater than 1.  It is impossible to find a rational number whose square is 2.   Up to now it has not been possible to show that π is a normal number.  Mathematicians like the challenge of the impossible.  To challenge, to prove, to refute.
     In the poem below Chelsea Martin devises an entertaining web of circular reasoning to explore the impossibility of eating at MacDonald's.

McDonalds Is Impossible       by Chelsea Martin

Eating food from McDonald's is mathematically impossible.
Because before you can eat it, you have to order it.
And before you can order it, you have to decide what you want.
And before you can decide what you want, you have to read the menu.
And before you can read the menu, you have to be in front of the menu.
And before you can be in front of the menu, you have to wait in line.
And before you can wait in line, you have to drive to the restaurant.
And before you can drive to the restaurant, you have to get in your car.
And before you can get in your car, you have to put clothes on. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Count your things

     In the development of human culture, mathematics began with counting.  And so it also begins with each child as she/he grows.
     Someone said that a person is wealthy when she has more things than she can count.  Another view is that true wealth is having no need to count.  Whether or not either is is correct, we can appreciate "My/My/My" by poet Charles Bernstein (begun below and completed at

My/My/My        by Charles Bernstein   

          Count these number of things you call mine. This is the distance between
          you and enlightenment.                                 —Swami Satchidananda

                        (for Jenny)

my pillow

my shirt

Monday, June 10, 2013

A sestina from Rudyard Kipling

My father died many years ago, when I was still a young girl, and I have few possessions that were once his.  One is The First Jungle Book, signed "Fulton Simpson" with his hand; it is very precious.  By extension, all work by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) falls under my interest.  And a sestina by Kipling is worthy of note:

Sestina of the Tramp-Royal     by Rudyard Kipling


Speakin’ in general, I ’ave tried ’em all—
The ’appy roads that take you o’er the world. 
Speakin’ in general, I ’ave found them good 
For such as cannot use one bed too long, 
But must get ’ence, the same as I ’ave done, 
An’ go observin’ matters till they die.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Man-Made Universe and "found" poems

 Some poems are found rather than crafted.
It's such fun -- can happen to anyone -- 
to be reading along and find a poem. 

     This post continues (from the June 4 posting) consideration of lines that were not initially written as poetry but have been later discovered to have the desirable characteristics of a poem.
     In an early-April posting I offered a poem-in-a-photo, a poem created of book spines -- and the bottom book in my pile of six is Mathematics, the Man-Made Universe:  an Introduction to the Spirit of Mathematics by Sherman K Stein (Third Edition, Freeman, 1976).  Reprinted in 2010 in paperback format, Stein's textbook -- for a "general reader," a curious person who is not a mathematician -- has been on my shelf for many years and, though I never taught from it, I have enjoyed it and shared it with friends (and I love its title). Recently, in the opening paragraph of Stein's Chapter 19 (page 471), I found a poem:

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A poem from an airline call center

     Poet Laura LeHew offers us "The New Math"-- a "found" poem that features conversations and calculations from call center negotiations to reschedule an airline flight -- posted in April, 2011 by the nonprofit literary arts collective [PANK].
     LeHew's poem starts out like this:

The New Math     by Laura LeHew
     a found poem 

Credit for the call center in India
to change your flight to the wrong day,
                                                                                      ($350.00) USD

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Geometry of distance

     Some of the poems herein arrive as gifts from friends.  Today's poem came via e-mail from Susan (a Californian whom I have gotten to know when she visits my neighbor, Priscilla).  Susan got it from Larry Robinson who connected me with the poet, Richard Retecki, for permission to post it here.
     As has been said in other contexts, It takes a village . . .    
     Thanks to you all!

     ascension           by Richard Retecki

               for Jonathan Glass

     the geometry
     of distance annoys
     is unfilled