Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fixing something wrong

          If there's something
          wrong with the third
          act,   it's   really
          in  the  first  act.

This quote from Billy Wilder, Austrian-born writer and film-director (1906-2002), reminds me of a similar observation I have made about my mathematical work -- when a reviewer notes a problem near the end, usually the fix is near the beginning.          And so it goes . . .

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Each equation is a playful catch . . .

A mathematician is probably too close to her subject matter to speak playfully about it -- and thus she, even more than others, appreciates a phrase like "each equation is a playful catch, like bees into a jar," offered by Lisa Rosenberg in the poem below.  In "Introduction to Methods of Mathematical Physics," Rosenberg uses a child's anxiety about insects as a way to describe fear of mathematics and offers a smidgen of respect for "those few" who are fearless. 

Introduction to Methods of Mathematical Physics    by Lisa Rosenberg

You must develop a feeling for these symbols
that crawl across a page, for the text overrun

with scorpions.  Like those books about insects
you read as a child, scared to touch the magnified photos,

Friday, July 25, 2014

Poems with "equation" in the title

     One of the ways to explore this blog is to go to the right hand column and find the instruction, SEARCH.
     A few moments ago I did this and entered the word "equation" and found a long list of links, many of the latter ones redundant since they are picking up archive listings of earlier postings.  But the early ones can be fun to explore.  Here are five of  the first six items that the SEARCH BOX produced.  And the first two of these links yield poems with "equation" in the title.  Enjoy! 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Mathematicians are not free to say . . .

The poetry of a mathematician is constrained by the definitions she knows from mathematics.  Even though all but one of the prime integers is odd, she cannot use the words "prime" and "odd" as if they are interchangeable.  She cannot use the words "rectangle" and "box" as synonyms.  But the ways that non-math poets dare to engage with math words can be delightful to mathematical ears and eyes.  For example:

       The Wasp on the Golden Section     by Katy Didden

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


     Palindromic numbers are not uncommon  -- recently (in the July 12 posting) power-of-eleven palindromes are mentioned.  Palindromic poems are more difficult to find but see, for example, the postings for October 6, 2010 and October 11, 2010.
     At a  recent Kensington Row Bookshop poetry reading, Hailey Leithauser revealed that all but one of the poems in her recent collection Swoop (Graywolf Press, 2014) contain a palindrome.  

And here are a couple of my favorite palindromic phrases:

(the impossible integer)
odd or 

(the mathematician's answer when she is offered cake)
  "I prefer pi."

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Prove It

After observing that

               1  =  1
and         1 + 3  =  4
and         1 + 3 + 5  =  9
and         1 + 3 + 5 + 7  =  16
and         1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 9  =  25

it seems easy to conclude that, for any positive integer n, the sum of the first n odd integers is n2.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Looking back . . .

I have been visiting my hometown of Indiana, Pennsylvania and not finding time to complete a new post -- and so I have looked back.  On July 9, 2010 I offered a sonnet by Australian poet Jordie Albiston that begins with these lines:
     math (after)

     first you get the number-rush as anyone
     might do      you watch your world turn to
     nought      put your foot upon the path re
     what cannot be said      I’ve heard before
 . . .

I invite you to go to the original post and read the rest.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Poetry as Pure Mathematics

A recent email from Portuguese mathematician-poet F J "Francisco" Craveiro de Carvalho brought a 40-year-old stanza to my attention. First published in the May, 1974 issue of POETRY Magazine, we have these enigmatic lines by William Virgil Davis.  Enjoy!

       The Science of Numbers:  Or Poetry as Pure Mathematics

       Whatever you add you add at your peril.
       It is far better to subtract.  In poetry,
       Multiplication borders on madness.
       Division is the mistress we agree to sleep with. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Mathematician and Poet

     Should I do it?  Should I do a blog post on a novel by Brazilian poet Hilda Hilst (1930-2004) that I have begun to read but don't yet know how to understand?
     Hilst's novel, With My Dog-Eyes, newly translated by Adam Morris (Melville House, 2014), attracted my attention because its narrator is a mathematician and a poet.  Here are the lines with which the novel begins:

      from   With My Dog-Eyes     by Hilda Hilst

       The cross on my brow
       The facts of what I was
       Of what I will be:
       I was born a mathematician, a magician
       I was born a poet.