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":

Small Powers of Eleven Are Palindromes    
                                                       by JoAnne Growney
Few people talk of mathematics
at cocktail parties.  Though perhaps some sort
of literary number — how many lines
for a sonnet or how many weeks for Life of Pi
on the Times best seller list?  Not many
care that six is perfect, five is Catalan,
or the square root of three is irrational.

How many bright and witty are overlooked
when we from France, Japan, or mathematics
must dim our brilliance in a second language —
hearing chatter of prime rib "to die for" and prime
interest rates and never getting to share the latest
news of twin primes.  Quick now, can you
name an odd cube that’s a palindrome?

Perhaps relevant here, a quote from John von Neumann (1903-1957): " . . . in mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them."      

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