Monday, September 30, 2013

Splendid Wake project

On Wednesday, September 25, more than one hundred poets met at the George Washington University Gelman Library's Special Collection Conference Room to show support for the Splendid Wake project -- an effort to document poetry in the Washington, DC area from 1900 forward. Initiated more than a year ago by Myra Sklarew and Elisavietta Ritchie, the project will honor poets associated with our nation's capital.  Interested persons are invited to visit the project's main page and to consider a submission -- biographies and information about poetry projects of all sorts (journals, reading series, websites, and so on).  Management of the project is being coordinated by GW Special Collections Librarian Jennifer King (jenking @
     In celebration of this project, here is "Monuments," a sestina (a poetic form involving permutations of the line-end-words) by Myra Sklarew that honors some of DC's past poets.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Averaging . . . geometry of the center

Perhaps partly due to his experience as an Air Force pilot during World War II,  Harold Nemerov (1920 - 1991) uses geometry with deft precision as he describes phenomena around him.  Here is a poem inspired by a 1986 news item.

Found Poem     by Howard Nemerov 

           after information received in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4 v 86

The population center of the USA
Has shifted to Potosi, in Missouri.

The calculation employed by authorities
In arriving at this dislocation assumes

That the country is a geometric plane,
Perfectly flat, and that every citizen,

Monday, September 23, 2013

A poet re-envisions space

University of Pennsylvania professor Robert Ghrist, in his September 19 lecture ("Putting Topology to Work") at the MAA's Carriage House, credited poet John Milton (1608-1674) with the first use of the word space as an abstract entity -- and, Ghrist asserted, by so doing, Milton opened a door to the study of abstract space (known in mathematics as topology).
The following material is a 24 September correction
from my 23 September posting.  For I discovered -- in a thoughtful email from Ghrist --
that the proper citation of "space" was not from line 50 of Book 1 but from line 89 of Book 7.  
(I invite you go to  for Paradise Lost in its entirety.)
Here, below, I have replaced my original posting of  lines 44-74 of Book 1 
with lines 80 - 97 of Book 7 --  lines taken from my shelf copy of Milton's Paradise Lost,
 the 1968 Signet Classic Edition, edited by Christopher Ricks.
In the selection below and throughout his epic, Milton replaces past visions of hell down-in-the-earth and heaven up-in-the-sky with more complex and abstract configurations.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

BRIDGES poems, from 17 poets

Due to the hard work of mathematician-poet Sarah Glaz, poetry has been an important part of recent BRIDGES-Math-Art Conferences. And, under her editing, a Bridges 2013 Poetry Anthology has been released, featuring poetry from these poets who participated in one or more of the three most recent BRIDGES conferences (Enschede, Netherlands, 2013; Towson, Maryland, 2012; Coimbra, Portugal, 2011). 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Perfect circle, Haiku

          Perfect circle round
               the moon
          In the center of the sky

by Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), from Book of Haikus  (Penguin, 2003)Thanks, Francisco.

PS.  If Kerouac were a mathematician he'd have noticed that "perfect" is implied by the definition of "circle" and is unnecessary.  But Kerouac was a poet and he saw a different necessity.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Consider Pascal

     Mathematician Blaise Pascal (France, 1623-1662) is known for his explorations with computing machines, for his ideas concerning probabilities, for trying to make rational a decision to believe in God and eternal life, for his explorations of the cycloid and the limacon (curves generated by rolling circles) and a host of other topics.
     I was introduced to Melbourne poet, novelist, and mathematician (he teaches at Victoria University of Technology), Tom Petsinis by South-African editor of Poetry-International, Liesl Jobson.  Here from Petsinis' collection, Naming the Number (Penguin, 1998) is "Pascal's Tooth," (a poem also available at the Poetry-International site).  In the grip of severe pain, Petsinis ponders the ideas of Pascal.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Kaplansky sings Kaplansky (and Pi)

     I first knew of mathematician Irving Kaplansky (1917-2006) through his monograph, Infinite Abelian Groups -- it was one of my texts for a graduate seminar (with Gene Levy) at the University of Oklahoma in the 1960s.  Later I knew Kaplansky as a songwriter, author of new lyrics for "That's Entertainment."  Kaplansky's adaptation, "That's Mathematics," dedicated to his former student, math-musician-songwriter Tom Lehrer, and to his daughter, singer Lucy Kaplansky, is given below.
      In 1999, in Science News, writer Ivars Peterson (now Director of Publications for the MAA -- Mathematical Association of America) wrote an article about Kaplansky's songwriting in which he mentions  his daughter, Lucy Kaplansky, a singer who frequently performs her father's songs.  A YouTube recording of Lucy singing "The Song of Pi" (in which there is a correspondence between musical notes and the first fourteen digits of pi) is available here.  (Lyrics for "The Song of  Pi" and information about the correspondence are available in Peterson's article.)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Nature poems -- at Stillwater

     As noted in my 5 August posting, the Stillwater poetry festival (organized by Kevin Clark) was scheduled for last Saturday, September 7 -- and I was (though delayed by the death of a car battery) able to attend.  A time to catch up with old friends -- River Poets Dave Barsky, Carol Ann Heckman, and Janet Locke, and Wilkes-Barre poet Richard AstonPoets and musicians featured at the festival included Lester Hirsh, Pamela Kavanaugh, James Pingry, Doug McMinn, Jack Troy, Julia Spicher Kasdorf, and Sheryl St. Germain. 
     The theme at Stillwater was Nature/Agriculture and my 5 August post included poems from conference organizer Clark and featured reader Kasdorf -- poems that involved both nature and mathematics.  Although found in Kasdorf's opening poem, "Double the Digits," mathematics was scarce.  Sheryl St. Germain, the final reader (currently a Pittsburgher, transplanted from New Orleans) briefly mentions computation and measurement in her "Hurricane Season ."   The full poem is available through St Germain's website; here is one of its stanzas. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Mathematical structure and Multiple choice

     A sonnet repeats the iambic rhythm of the heart beat (da-DUM, da-DUM, . . .) with a line length corresponding to a typical breath (5 heartbeats); it thus seems easy to internalize the numerical structure that guides such a poem. 
     A decision tree offers a very different choice of mathematical structure for a poem -- displaying for a reader different choices among stanzas.  Originally proposed to the OULIPO by founder Francois Le Lionnais, and referred to as a multiple-choice narrative, such a structure allows readers of a poem to choose among subsequent events. Instead of reading the poem vertically, we may jump about, choosing the sequence we want to read.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Poetry-with-math in Baltimore -- 17 Jan 2014

At the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore (January 15-18, 2014), the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics (under the leadership of editors Mark Huber and Gizem Karaali) will sponsor a poetry reading.  Mark your calendar now! (And be sure to scroll down past the reading announcement to poems from last year's JHM reading in San Diego by poets Katie Manning and Karen Morgan Ivy.)

 Friday,  January 17, 2014. 4:30 - 6:30 PM
 Room 308  Baltimore Convention Center