Thursday, October 31, 2013

On poetry and geometric truth . . .

          On poetry and geometric truth
          And their high privilege of lasting life,
          From all internal injury exempt,
          I mused; upon these chiefly:  and at length,
          My senses yielding to the sultry air,
          Sleep seized me, and I passed into a dream.

                                                  William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
                                                  from The Prelude, Book 5

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

From order to chaos -- a sonnet

Fractals    by Diana Der-Hovanessian

                             Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare
                                                    --Edna St. Vincent Millay

Euclid alone began to formulate
the relation of circle, plane and sphere
in equations making it quite clear
that symmetry is what we celebrate. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Two cultures

The opening poem of Uneasy Relations by mathematician-poet Michael Bartholomew-Biggs is concerned with similarities and differences between mathematical and poetic cultures -- a topic of immense interest also to me and one that I too try to address in my verse.  I wonder --  HOW can I show non-mathematicians that good mathematics is poetry??!!  And, moreover, how can I (mostly a mathematician) write (as advocated by Wallace Stevens and agreed with by other poets) of things rather than (as mathematics wants) of ideas.  OR, may one make poetry of ideas?

   Two Cultures     by Michael Bartholomew-Biggs

   Graves claimed there isn't
   much money in poetry:
   and none vice-versa.

   The first part stays true
   if we replace poetry
   by mathematics. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Two-line poems -- Landays -- from Afghanistan

Celebrate Activist Poetry -- At Nov. 1 Event

BE THERE on November 1, 2013 at the Goethe-Intitut in Washington DC when poet and journalist Eliza Griswold is  honored with the Split this Rock Freedom Plow Award (register here for this important event) for Poetry and Activism for her work collecting and introducing the folk poems of Afghan women to America.  The June issue of Poetry Magazine is entirely dedicated to landays -- two-line poems by Afghan women that capture dark, funny, and revealing moments that few outsiders ever witness.  (Edited and introduced by Griswold, the poems are magnificently supplemented by photographs by Seamus Murphy.)

Here are three landays from Griswold's Poetry collection, each selected for inclusion here because it includes at least one number: 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Topology for poets

     The title of this posting ("Topology for Poets") comes from Maryland Poet Amy Eisner's poem "Lure" (offered below) -- a poem that plays with math concepts.  (In mathematics, "topology" is a variant of geometry in two shapes are "equivalent" if one could be obtained from the other by stretching or bending.)   
     It was my pleasure to meet Amy when she read in the Takoma Park Third Thursday Poetry Series earlier this year.   I like her work.  Enjoy!

Lure    by Amy Eisner


My friend is crocheting a fishing line. This is not a gift and keeps no one warm.
This is withdrawing. Persisting in a flaw. Forfending.

She knows there’s something perverse in it. Like growing a mold garden.
Fishing does involve a hook, a line, and a net. But not like this.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Mathematics of love . . .

"Mathematics of Love" is the title poem of a collection by John Edwin Cohen (1941-2012), published in 2011 by Anaphora Literary Press and presented here with press permission.  Cohen has used mathematics playfully and does what a mathematician never dares to do, use a mathematical term with other than its precise meaning. Still, perhaps, even math folks may enjoy this application of geometric shape and poetic license!

Mathematics of Love     by John Edwin Cohen


       Engine of joy
       arithmetic and sincere
       holding the hemisphere
              and geometry of

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Circle Power

Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle

         by Black Elk (1863-1950)  (translated from Sioux)

Everything the Power of the World does
is done in a circle.  The sky is round,
and I have heard that the earth is round
like a ball, and so are all the stars.
The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

"My Proteins"

The mysteries of science are sometimes explored in poems and, in this vein, I was delighted to find "My Proteins" by Jane Hirshfield (a poet whose work I like and admire) on page 56 of the September 16, 2013 issue of The New Yorker.   As she explores the riddles of who she is and where she came from, she has these lines-with-numbers (stanzas 3 and 4):

from My Proteins      by Jane Hirshfield

     Ninety percent of my cells, they have discovered,
     are not my own person,
     they are other beings inside me.

     As ninety-six percent of my life is not my life.
          . . .

Look for the entire poem; and enjoy! 
Another exploration of what the self is and isn't may be found in Hirshfield's "My Skeleton"  -- today's Poem-A-Day selection from  Jane Hirshfield's poem "Mathematics" is available here in my post for 23 June 2010.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Mathews retells Dowland (with permutations)

 In my post for 6 September 2013 I presented Oulipian Harry Mathews' poem "Multiple Choice" -- a poem whose alternative story lines might be represented by a tree diagram.  That poem was but one of 29 variations (or "Exercises in Style") by Harry Mathews as he retold again and again a tale first offered by lute-player and composer John Dowland (1563-1626), a musician whose work still finds audience today.   Here is Dowland's tale, from which Matthews created 29 alternative versions.  (See "Trial Impressions" in Armenian Papers, Poems 1954-1984 (Princeton University Press, 1987, out of print) and in A Mid-Season Sky:  Poems 1953-1991 (Carcanet, 1992).) 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Split This Rock 2014

     Plan now to attend the 4th national biennial Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness in Washington, DC, March 27-30, 2014.  The sixteen poets to be featured at the 2014 festival are:  Sheila Black, Franny Choi, Eduardo C. Corral, Gayle Danley, Natalie Diaz, Joy Harjo, Maria Melendez Kelson, Yusef Komunyakaa, Dunya Mikhail, Shailja Patel, Wang Ping, Claudia Rankine, Tim Seibles, Myra Sklarew, Danez Smith, and Anne Waldman.   The website offers photographs and more information about the festival.  It will be awesome!  

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Measuring the World . . .

     Yesterday afternoon, at the Goethe Institut in Washington DC, I saw a wonderful film, "Measuring the World." Based on a popular 2005 novel by Daniel Kehlmann, the story of a friendship between preeminent German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) and Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859).  The film offers a delightful interplay of personalities and ideas as it darts between the explorations of these two men -- one digging inside his head for mathematics and the other traveling over mountains, through jungles, across oceans. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sonnet -- To Science

Edgar Allan Poe's "Sonnet -- To Science" was the "Poem-A-Day" selection of last week on September 29.  The poem is in the public domain and I offer it to you below. As Poe speaks of science I wonder whether -- if he had not announced his subject -- we might as easily imagine he is speaking of poetry.