Monday, December 30, 2013

Error Message Haiku

Found at, a variety of (often-amusing) mathematical verses -- including a collection of Error Message Haiku.  Approaching a New Year, I have been reflecting on my device-dependencies and considering resolutions about them -- and musing over some of these wistful substitutions for machine messages I dread:

       A crash reduces
       Your expensive computer
       To a simple stone.

       Chaos reigns within.
       Reflect, repent, and reboot.
       Order shall return.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The angel of numbers . . .

This poem by Hanns Cibulka (1920 - 2004) -- translated from the German by Ewald Osers -- is collected in the anthology, Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics, edited by Sarah Glaz and me (A K Peters, 2008).

     Mathematics      by Hanns Cibulka     (trans. Ewald Osers)

                  And the angel of numbers
                  is flying
                  from 1 to 2...
                      Rafael Alberti

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ah, you are a mathematician

Thanks to Arturo Sangalli of the Writer's Union of Canada -- and fellow-participant in a recent Banff creativity conference --  who reminded me of this poem.  And thanks to Bill Dunham who has spread it widely by including it in The Mathematical Universe  (Wiley, 1997).  These brief stanzas were written in the early 1990s  when many of us kept our financial facts in checkbooks rather than online; still current, however, is the mistaken image of mathematicians as those whose task it is to keep numbers clean and orderly.

          Misunderstanding     by JoAnne Growney

          Ah, you are a mathematician,
              they say with admiration
              or scorn.    

Friday, December 20, 2013

Measuring Winter

Thomas Campion (1567-1620) was an English composer, physician, and poet.   I found this poem at

Now Winter Nights Enlarge     by Thomas Campion

Now winter nights enlarge
    The number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
    Upon the airy towers.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sieve of Eratosthenes

The Sieve of Eratosthenes     by Robin Chapman

He was an ancient Greek
looking for primes,
those whole numbers divisible
only by 1 and themselves,
those new arrivals on the block,
fresh additions to the stock
of indivisibles spilling through
future time (for what is time

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Amounting to Something

From the Fall/Winter 2013 issue of Poet Lore, a poem by David Wagoner about the arithmetic of expectations:

     Amounting to Something     by David Wagoner

     You were supposed to do that
     by saving yourself up
               like coins in a pig rescued
               just in time sometimes
     from in front of the candy counter  
     or the desk in the corridor

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

13 lads of Christmas

     In addition to waterfalls and geysers and the Aurora, Iceland has outstanding museums.  On the morning of December 10, I visited the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik -- and enjoyed a careful introduction to the history of this fascinating and friendly nation.  Something I missed, however, was seeing one of the 13 Yuletide Lads that are an Icelandic tradition and who visit the Museum one-by-one on the 13 days before Christmas, each wearing traditional costume and trying to pilfer the goodies he likes best.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Iceland -- poetry, stones

British translator and editor David McDuff blogs at "Nordic Voices in Print" -- a site that he uses as "a way of making some of my translations of Nordic poetry and prose available online."  Here is "stones" -- the third of a group of ten poems he has posted by Icelandic poet Sjón.  This one involves a few numbers and I present it here as a math-poetry token of the fascinating land I am planning to visit: a five-day Iceland vacation adventure, traveling with my Eastern Village neighbors Priscilla and Glenn. 

stones     by Sjón (translated by David McDuff)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Conversational mathematics

In recent weeks I have been experimenting with poems that use mathematical terminology, wondering whether -- since there are readers who are undaunted by unknown literary references (to Dante's Divine Comedy or Eliot's Prufrock, for example) -- some readers will relish a poem with unexplained mathematical connections.  In this vein I have offered "Love" (posted on on November 5) and now give the following poem, "Small Powers of Eleven are Palindromes":