Monday, September 15, 2014

Remembering Lee Lorch

      Lee Lorch was a mathematician known for his social activism on behalf of black Americans as well as for his mathematics. He died in February of this year in Toronto, at age 98.  A life-long communist and a life-long crusader.  Last Thursday I attended a memorial service  (organized by Joe Auslander, a poetry-lover who one day had introduced me to the work of Frank Dux) for Lorch -- sponsored by the Mathematical Association for America and held at the MAA Carriage House in Washington, DC.  Friends and colleagues of Lorch spoke of his positive energy and the ways that he had enriched the lives of students and colleagues, of friends and strangers.  One of the speakers, Linda Braddy, a staff member of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), did not talk about Lorch but about strategies for opening mathematical doors (as he had done) to new students. 
     Braddy cited a book entitled Understanding and Engaging Under-Resourced College Students and she engaged audience members in examining "hidden rules" that many of us carry with us from our privileged backgrounds that are very different from those held by students coming from poverty.  In short, Braddy tried to be clear that the social activism of Lee Lorch is ongoing in the MAA. 

     In seeking a poem to connect with Lorch, I went to the Poetry Foundation website and did a search using the term "mathematician."  These three poems were offered:  Song of Myself (1892 version) by Walt WhitmanCinema Verité  by Bin Ramke; At the End of Life, a Secret  by Reginald Dwayne Betts.  Nice poems but I did not see any of the three fitting here.
     I turned to the anthology Against Infinity and found two poems by Lillian Morrison that had possibiities.  AND THEN, when I googled her name I learned that she also had died in February 2014, though at the age of only 96 (as contrasted with Lorch's 98).  And so I chose one of her poems.

     Here, from Against Infinity (edited by Ernest Robson and Jet Wimp, Primary Press, 1979) is a poem for Lee Lorch; he danced in many circles -- may you and I also do that!

       The Locus of a Point     by Lillian Morrison

       I sleep
       in the swing of the bell
       away from the sun.

       I wake
       as it turns to the light,
       and move with the arc
       of the day.

       What in that ray
       connects me
       to the center?
       Why does the whole
       wheel shine

       Rays shake and shimmer,
       slacken, tauten,
       The ball revolves.

       Though circumscribed
       I dance
       in many circles.

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