Monday, June 30, 2014

A recent butterfly effect

The term butterfly effect has entered everyday vocabulary from the mathematics of chaos theory and refers to the possibility of a major event (such as a tornado) starting from something so slight as the flutter of a butterfly wing. This sensitivity to small changes is a characteristic of chaotic systems.  Recent news in Science magazine (9 May 2014) has drawn my attention to sea butterflies -- and the effect that ocean acidification is having on the lives of these tiny, fragile creatures -- and the environmental warning that this portends.  From the details offered in Science, I have constructed this poem of 4x4 square-stanzas:

       Warned by Sea Butterflies     by JoAnne Growney

       Sea butterflies --
       no larger than
       a grain of sand,
       named for the way  

Friday, June 27, 2014

Of all geometries, feathery is best . . .

The title for this post comes from Twinzilla (The Word Works, 2014), by Charleston poet Barbara Hagerty.  The title character of this collection is one of several poetic personalities that inhabit Hagerty's verse, and she offers a playful view of life's dualities -- sometimes versed in mathematical terminology.  Here's a sample.  

     Twinzilla Cautions *     by Barbara G. S. Hagerty

     Do not accept packages from unknown persons.
     Beware non-native strangers who may be concealing
     hazardous contraband "down there."
     Question algebra.  Dismantle thoughts traveling
     the brain's baggage carousel in parabolas.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Is mathematics discovered or invented?

My neighbor, Glenn, is fond of asking math-folks that he meets the question "Is mathematics discovered or invented?" -- and when he asked the question of MAA lecturer William Dunham the response was one word, delivered with a smile, "Yes." The question of invention versus discovery -- which may apply to poetry or to mathematics  --  is thoughtfully considered in "Notes toward a Supreme Fiction" by Wallace Stevens (1879-1955); here are a few lines from that poem.

       from It Must Give Pleasure,  VII     by Wallace Stevens

     He imposes orders as he thinks of them,
     As the fox and the snake do. It is a brave affair.
     Next he builds capitols and in their corridors,    

Friday, June 20, 2014

Three thousand, and two

Here is a small poem richly vivid with the contrasts of opposites:

                 beside a stone three
                 thousand years old: two
                 red poppies of today

by Christine M. Krishnasami, India, found in This Same Sky:  A Collection of Poems from around the World (selected by Naomi Shihab Nye, Aladdin Paperbacks, 1996).

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Found: Elementary Calculus

Here is a poem by Saskatchewan poet Karen Solie.

       Found     by Karen Solie

       Elementary Calculus

                From    Elementary Calculus  A. Keith and W. J. Donaldson.
                          Glasgow:  Gibson, 1960.

Speed (like distance)
       is a magnitude and has no
       direction; velocity (like displacement)

       has magnitude and direction.  

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Number theory is like poetry

     Austrian-born Olga Taussky-Todd (1906-1995) was a noted and prolific mathematician who left her homeland for London in 1935 and moved on to California in 1945. Her best-known work was in the field of matrix theory (in England during World War II she started to use matrices to analyze vibrations of airplanes) and she also made important contributions to number theory. In the math-poetry anthology, Against Infinity, I found a poem by this outstanding mathematician.  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

And Now I See . . .

     One of the ways we overcome our nervous shyness about our disabilities is by talking about them, and writing about them.  And by encountering the poetry of Kathi Wolfe.  I enjoy her work out-loud -- she is a frequent performer of her poems at local DC-area venues  -- and on the page.
     Kathi's "Blind Ambition" (in which she speaks of the monsters in arithmetic) is offered below; I first discovered this poem when it was posted by Split this Rock as poem of the week.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Literary works by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898, aka Lewis Carroll) are crammed with mentions of mathematics.   One of my favorites (found here with numerous others, including "Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, Derision") is this exchange from Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

          "Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."
          "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen.  "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day.  Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

                                                                                       Alice in Wonderland 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Behind the cards -- mathematics

A couple of weeks ago at an MAA math lecture by Alissa Crans on the Catalan numbers, I sat near card-trick mathematician Colm Mulcahy.  And I asked him if he knew any poems about card tricks and their mathematics.
   Though he at first said "no," Mulcahy turned out to have a couple of connections up his sleeve.  From Matthew Wright he learned of "The Card Players" -- a colorful sonnet from Philip Larkin's 1974 collection High Windows and available here with selections of Adriaen Brouwer's art.  
     And Bruce Reznick reminded him of the lyrics for "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers.  The complete lyrics may be found here; I include below a stanza that offers some instruction about counting.