Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Algebra (sort of) in a short story

 Tomorrow I head to Baltimore for the BRIDGES Math-Arts Conference.
Explore the conference program at this link.  Would love to see you there!
It is my occasional delight to learn of a new mathy poem in an email message from Francisco José Craveiro de Carvalho, a Portuguese mathematician who loves poetry and has translated many math-related poems to and from his native language -- a seeker and finder of such poems who shares them with me.  (See also 23 October 2010, 17 September 2013, and 24 December 2014.)  A recent message from this friend alerted me to "Problem," an algebra-like short story (?prose poem?) by prize-winning author Lydia Davis. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Math and Poetry and Climate

Canadian poet Madhur Anand is also an Environmental Scientist; her love of nature and concerns for preserving a habitable climate pervade her work -- and she also scatters throughout it some mathematics.  You can imagine my delight when I found in her new collection (A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes) a poem (included below) that features the identity matrix.  Read on!

No Two Things Can Be More Equal    by Madhur Anand

In undergrad I learned about the identity 
matrix. Ones on the main diagonal and zeros 
elsewhere. Anything multiplied by it is itself. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The culture for women in math and the sciences

Perhaps the phrase "ordinary" women scientists is an oxymoron -- but it should not be.  Women should be free to populate the full range of aspiration and dedication to science or any other profession.   In this spirit, I offer below the opening lines of a thought-provoking poem, "Ordinary Women Scientists," by science writer and poet Mary Alexandra Agner, from the excellent and important anthology Raising Lilly Ledbetter:  Women Poets Occupy the Workspace.

     Here are links to several recent items about math-women:
Here is a report of a panel at Harvard discussing roles of women in mathematics. 
Here is a link to the Women in Maths Facebook page where visitors 
may post information and offer support for math women.
This link leads to my poem celebrating Emmy Noether.  Here we celebrate Caroline Herschel.
Here at mathblogging.org is a place to find all sorts of math-links.

     from    Ordinary Women Scientists          by Mary Alexandra Agner       
                                                                                      for R.C.
      leave the lab late, flasks washed and waiting,
      computer on an overnight crunch job,
      warm dinner in the microwave
      while wondering at excited water molecules,
      wave their kids goodnight, grateful    

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Several friends have sent me links to the poem "Terror/Mathematics" by Zeina Hashem Beck -- written after the beheading of 21 Christian Egyptians in Libya in February 2015 and published online here in One Throne Magazine.  To illustrate the style (with some mathematical symbols) and the power of the poem I offer the first couple of stanzas below -- and invite you to go to the One Throne website for all seven stanzas.

from   Terror/Mathematics     by Zeina Hashem Beck

                   After the beheading of 21 Christian Egyptians in Libya, February 2015

Try calculated, think math.
Capture and + the numbers,
- the Muslims.  21 is what you are

left with, which is 3 x 7.  Any multiple of 3
is blasphemous, is  √all evil,
and we will / its neck open. 

Islam is an X
in an equation we never    . . .                  (You may go here for the rest . . . )

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Celebrating Ada Lovelace

Recently I have purchased the anthology, Raising Lilly Ledbetter:  Women Poets Occupying the Workplace (edited by Caroline Wright, M.L. Lyons & Eugenia Toledo, Lost Horse Press, 2015), and have found in it dozens of wonderful poems, including several that celebrate women of science.  Below I offer a poem by New York poet Jo Pitkin that honors Ada Lovelace (1815-1852).  

Bird, Moon, Engine     by Jo Pitkin

Like a fence or a wall to keep me from harm,
tutors circled me with logic, facts, theorems.
But I hid the weeds growing wild in my mind.

By age five, I could plot the arc of a rainbow.
I could explain perpendicular and parallel.
In my mind, I heard the wind in wild weeds. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Visual-mathematical poetry

      The poems that I write and most of the poems that I include in this blog use mathematical patterns to structure their lines and stanzas or mathematical terminology in their content -- but blogger Kaz Maslanka is a mathematical poet who does something different:  his creations involve mathematical operations and symbols as well as words.  For example, the following visual poem -- involving symbols for "equals" and "divided by" -- comes from a recent posting (in his blog, "Mathematical Poetry") of what Maslanka calls an orthogonal space poem.

"Winning" -- a visual poem by Kaz Maslanka in a form related to the formula for the area of a rectangle,  A = lw or, alternatively, w = A/l.  (Double-click on the image to enlarge it.)

During July 29-August 1, 2015, Kaz Maslanka and I both plan to participate 
in the BRIDGES Math-and-the-Arts Conference at the University of Baltimore -- 
sharing our poetry and enjoying the work of others.  
Join us if you can; no registration fee is required for Friday "Family Day" events 
which include a poetry reading.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Math fun with song lyrics

Song-writer Bill Calhoun is a faculty member in the Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics at Pennsylvania's Bloomsburg University (where I also hung out for many years). He belongs, along with colleagues Erik Wynters and Kevin Ferland, to a band called "The Derivatives."  And Bill has granted permission for me to include several of his math lyrics (parodies) here. (In this previous post, we consider the connection between song parodies and mathematical isomorphism.)  My first Calhoun selection deals with difficult mathematical questions concerning classification of infinite sets and decidability.  Following that, later lyrics consider proving theorems and finding derivatives.

Questions You Can’t Ever Decide*      by Bill Calhoun

(These lyrics match the tune of  "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by Lennon and McCartney.)

Picture yourself in  a world filled with numbers,
But the numbers are really just words in disguise.
Gödel says “How can you prove you’re consistent,
If you can’t tell that this is a lie?”    

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Things to Count On

Tomorrow is my mother's birthday.  Born in 1912, she has been gone for several years now -- and tomorrow my sons and I will travel to Indiana, Pennsylvania to visit her grave and the farmhouse where I grew up.  In honor of my mother, I post this poem (also posted on October 1, 2010) that enumerates ways that numbers were vital in my early life.

Things to Count On            by JoAnne Growney  

Monday, July 6, 2015

Counting Years -- in p'Bitek's Song of Lawino

Okot p'Bitek (1931-1982) was a Ugandan poet; one of his central concerns was that African literature should be built on African rather than European foundations.  His epic poem Song of Lawino (East African Publishing House, 1966) is a narrative poem written in the voice of Lawino who appeals to her husband Ocol to stay true to his own customs, and to abandon his desire to be white.  Here is a section of that poem that addresses a system for counting years.

from   Song of Lawino      by Okot p'Bitek

       Ocol tells me
       Things I cannot understand,      

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Voice Meant to be Spoken

     Last month the Library of Congress named a new poet laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, a Californian and Mexican-American whose work often involves oral performance  - as in “187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border,” (City Lights, 2007).  As I have learned about this poet I have found that I identify with his process,  "I write while I’m walking, on little scraps of paper,” he said.  (Wasn't walking also a writing strategy for William Wordsworth?)
     When I am introduced to the work of a new poet it has become my custom not only to enjoy her or his work but also to look for the ways that she or he uses mathematics.  The following poem is found, along with others by Herrera, at  Poets.org.   

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sex, Maths, and the Brain

I found this poetry in an abstract (with a link posted at "Women in Maths" on Facebook) for a lecture by Professor Gina Rippon entitled "Sex, Maths, and the Brain" at Aston University in Birmingham, England, on 30 June 2015.  Enjoy!

Is there such a thing as a maths 
brain? Are mathematicians born 
or made?  Is the lack of girls 
in maths subjects 
a 'brain' problem?