Saturday, August 31, 2013

A square-root of dead weight . . .

     A poet  I love (Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013, 1995 Nobelist) has died. The NYTimes obituary for Heaney quotes one of my favorites of his poems, "Digging" -- also available at  Part of what I like about this Irishman's poetry is its design.  Not only do his poems offer musicality of language but they feel carefully constructed -- modeling real world phenomena as mathematical models do -- built with careful attention to structure and detail until varied factors have been erected into in integrated whole.  "Digging" ties together the physical activity of Heaney's father shoveling in the peat bogs of Ireland to his own probing with a pen for words. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Poetry in a math text

     In the 1980s, all students at Bloomsburg University were required to take at least one mathematics course and I worked with colleagues to develop a suitable offering -- one that did not require expertise in algebra but which emphasized problem-solving.  Our course became "Mathematical Thinking" -- and I began to develop suitable materials -- eventually writing and publishing Mathematics in Daily Life:  Making Decisions and Solving Problems (McGraw-Hill, 1986).  Each of the twenty-two chapters of this textbook is introduced with a relevant quote.  Chapter 11, "Visualizing the Structure of Information with a Tree Diagram," opens with two lines by one of my favorite poets, Theodore Roethke:

               Once upon a tree              
               I came across a time.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Celebrating a math-woman

I am continually searching for poems that feature past and current math-women.
When you find one (or create one) I will be glad to have you send it along.

The lunar crater L Herschel is named for astronomer Caroline Lucretia Herschel (1750-1848) -- and I have celebrated this math-woman earlier with two fine poems:  "Letter from Caroline Herschel" by Siv Cedering , and "Planetarium" by Adrienne Rich.  Now Herschel is the focus of a forthcoming book by poet Laura Long, The Eye of Caroline Herschel: A Life in Poems, (Finishing Line Press, 2013).  Here, from that collection, is "The Taste of Mathematics:  Caroline Herschel at 31" -- this poem also appears, along with a note about the full collection, in the July 2013 issue of The Journal of Humanistic Mathematics.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Out of 100 -- in the Klondike Gold Rush

Adding to my recent post on 19 August I note that OEDILF is seeking submissions.   
Join the project:  submit limerick definitions of  (math)  terms for OEDILF consideration.

One of my favorite poets is the 1996 Nobelist Wislawa Szymborska (1923 - 2012, Poland); one of my favorites of her poems is "A Contribution to Statistics."  Szymborska's poem served as a model for a poem of mine shown below, about Gold Rush Days in Skagway, Alaska.  Written while I was poet-in-residence at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, (in Skagway), this poem draws on historical data from the park's library to paint a bleak picture of wealth and survival in those gold-mad days.  

Counting in the Klondike     by JoAnne Growney
                        after Wisława Szymborska

Of 100 who left Seattle for Skagway in 1898
40 made it to the gold fields
8 found gold.    

Monday, August 19, 2013

OEDILF - the Limerick Dictionary

     At this site  Editor-in-Chief Chris Strolin is coordinating development of OEDILF: The Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form.  So far, definitions are available (and being submitted) for terms beginning with letter-pairs Aa - Fd -- and completion of the dictionary is predicted at the OEDILF website for 2043.
     I have mentioned OEDILF before -- on 5 December 2012 and 29 March 2010. And today I offer a draft limerick about "factors" -- I am at this point, however, dissatisfied with my use of the plural rather than simply "factor."  More work needed.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pushkin inspires Seth -- novels in verse

      My enjoyment of novels in verse began to thrive when a friend and I determined to get into Vikram's Seth's The Golden Gate (Random House, 1986) by taking turns reading its sonnets aloud to each other. After several dozen aloud, I could hear the voice even when I read silently and I went on to finish alone. And I loved it. I have gone on to enjoy several more works by Seth -- none of them poems but all wonderful stories, well told.
      Seth has said that he was moved to write by the novel Alexander Pushkin's verse novel Eugene Onegin noted here on 10 August 2013 -- a novel of interest to mathematicians because of its link to Markov Chains. Seth's novel (reviewed here) also was made into an opera. These first two stanzas -- each containing the numbers 26 and 1980 -- introduce the novel's computer-guy, John:

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Emily Dickinson

     Although I do not consider any of Emily Dickinson's poems "mathematical," I find that she does not shy from using the terminology of mathematics. For example, her repetition of the word "circumference" noted in an earlier posting.  (To search this blog for mentions of Dickinson (1830 - 1886) or any other poet or topic, follow the instructions offered in green in the column to the right.)
     Dickinson is on my mind these recent days following my opportunity last Saturday evening to attend a session of a conference held by the Emily Dickinson International Society.  A gracious invitation by Martha Nell Smith enabled me to attend a program that featured two long-time friends, actor Laurie McCants of the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, performing a scene from her one-woman show, Industrious Angels, and Stephanie Strickland, a New York poet who, along with collaborator Nick Montfort, offered background and performance for Sea and Spar Between, a poetry generator that works with language patterns for these two writers.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Pushkin poetry, Markov chains

A Markov chain is a mathematical process that can be used to answer questions such as these:
          If the current letter I am reading is a vowel, what is the probability 
          that the next letter will be a vowel?  A consonant? 
Answers from these may be combined to create more lengthy predictions -- about the 3rd letter after a given one, or the 10th -- and so on. 
     A recent article by Brian Hayes in American Scientist (brought to my attention by Greg Coxson) alerted me to the fact that it is 100 years since the Russian mathematician A. A. Markov (1856 - 1922) announced his findings about these transition probabilities -- and, moreover, his work was based on analysis of poetry; the poetry was Eugene Onegin, a verse-novel in iambic tetrameter by Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837). Markov's analyis dealt with Pushkin's novel as a long string of alphabetic characters and he tabulated the categories of vowels and consonants for about 20,000 letters. (For a host of details, visit Hayes' careful and interesting article.)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Feynman Point poems

The Feynman Point is a sequence of six 9s that occurs in the decimal expansion of π -- these 9s are found in positions 762 - 767 following the decimal point.  When writing in Pilish (using word-lengths that correspond to digits of π), the Feynman Point offers a particular challenge since 9-letter words are infrequent.  I learned about the Feynman Point here.  AND I found a splendid database that makes the difficult task of choosing 6 9-letter words easily doable.   Here is my first Feynman Point poem:
      Scratchers sleepwalk --
      seriously screening sentences,

Mike Keith's Pilish short story, Cadeic Cadenza, has this Feynman Point: 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Poetry on Back Roads -- Stillwater Festival

     On Saturday, September 7, a poetry festival will happen in Stillwater, PA (a small town not far from Bloomsburg where I lived and professored for many years).  From noon to 9 at the Stillwater Memorial Park (63 McHenry Street (Rt 487) Stillwater, PA), organized by Kevin Clark, held in a revival-style tent, the the reading will have nature and agriculture as its theme -- and featured poets will include Julia Spicher Kasdorf, Sheryl St Germain, and Jack Troy.  (And there will be two open mic sessions.)
     Offered below are two poems by festival participants -- these are poems of numbers and travels (and more):  "Double the Digits" by Penn State poet, Julia Spicher Kasdorf, and "Tag Clouds," by Stillwater festival organizer, Kevin Clark (contact using StillwaterPoetry-at-yahoo-dot-com). 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Nursery Rhyme Mathematics

During the last week of July I was in California, vacationing with family (including six of my grandchildren).  Most of these kids have grown past a fascination with nursery rhymes, but I still like them -- and think it's likely that memorization of rhymes helps with learning to read and count. 

Here is one of my favorites, "A Diller, a Dollar."