Thursday, December 31, 2015

Precision leads to poetry . . .

As the year ends, a quote from one of my once-favorite authors, Don DeLillo (in correspondence with David Foster Wallace -- whose Infinite Jest is on my to-read list), earlier offered by Jordan Ellenberg in Quomodocumque.

Quoting DeLillo:

          Once, probably, I used to think that vagueness 
          was a loftier kind of poetry, truer 
          to the depths of consciousness, and maybe 
          when I started to read mathematics and science 

          back in the mid-70s I found an unexpected lyricism 
          in the necessarily precise language 
          that scientists tend to use. 
          My instinct, my superstition 
          is that the closer I see a thing 
          and the more accurately I describe it, 
          the better my chances of arriving 
          at a certain sensuality of expression.

And at the BrainyQuotes website is this quote (and many others) by DeLillo (and many others).
For me, writing is a concentrated form of thinking.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Can a woman learn science (or mathematics)?

It is not a new idea that women do not have scientific aptitude, that teaching them requires special accommodation.  Here, in a poem by one of the greatest scientists of all time, is a description of a condescending lecture to a female student, individually and behind a curtain, followed by her mocking reply.

Lectures to Women on Physical Science  by James Clerk Maxwell  (1831-79)

I.    PLACE. —A small alcove with dark curtains.
       The class consists of one member.
       SUBJECT.—Thomson’s Mirror Galvanometer.

      The lamp-light falls on blackened walls,
            And streams through narrow perforations,
      The long beam trails o’er pasteboard scales,
            With slow-decaying oscillations.
Flow, current, flow, set the quick light-spot flying,
Flow current, answer light-spot, flashing, quivering, dying.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

And now welcome Christmas . . .

Let us sing . . .

(a version of)  The Twelve Days of Christmas

          The twelfth day of Christmas.
          My true love gave to me,
          Twelve lords a leaping,
          Eleven ladies dancing,
          Ten pipers piping,
          Nine drummers drumming,
          Eight maids a milking,
          Seven swans a swimming,
          Six geese a laying,
          Five golden rings,
          Four colly birds,
          Three French hens,
          Two turtle doves,
          And a partridge in a pear tree.

To learn some history of this song (and its variations), frequently sung as a cumulative marathon, see Wikipedia.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Let us not forget . . .

At this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, many are without shelter -- and are cold.  Let us think of them  -- as Cecil Day-Lewis (1904-1972) does in "A Carol" below (a poem whose lines for the most part maintain an alternating 6-5 syllable count and which contains the small number two).  Let us remember to share our warmth.

       A Carol     by Cecil Day-Lewis 

       Oh hush thee, my baby,
       Thy cradle's in pawn:

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Who put the pie in Pythagoras?

Irish poet and physicist Iggy McGovern has written both humorous and serious verse.  Today we have lines from him that startle and amuse -- below I present, with his permission, selections from his collection Safe House (Dedalus Press, 2010).  Here are "Belfast Inequalities" and "Proverbs for the Computer Age":

Belfast Inequalities     by Iggy McGovern
                          for Master Devlin
       Who put the pie in Pythagoras,
       who put the bra in algebra
       and who was the first to say: Let x
       be that unknown quantity in sex?
       the answer's in some chromosome
       and not the sums you do at home 

Friday, December 18, 2015

A student writes poetry for a math class . . .

A recent fun experience for me has been correspondence with Melanie Simms, a poet and math student at Pennsylvania's Bloomsburg University, where I taught for a bunch of years.  Melanie recently completed the course "Mathematical Thinking" -- a course that I helped to develop during my years at BU and one for which I wrote a textbook (Mathematics in Daily Life:  Making Decisions and Solving Problems, McGraw-Hill, 1986).   The course was developed to offer general quantitative skills for students majoring in fields (such as English or Art)  that do not have a specific mathematics requirement.  Melanie's instructor for the course, Paul Loomis, is a singer and songwriter and, with him as first reader, Melanie composed a mathematical poem involving course material.  She has shared the poem with me and has given me permission to post it here.

     The Mathematics of Chance      by Melanie Simms

     The gods of chance
     Have left me skewed
     My distribution, variable!
     With ranges far, and ranges wide
     My navigation's terrible! 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Generalized Pythagorean Theorem--a visual poem?

While thinking about my December 13 posting featuring work by Richard Kostelanetz -- visual poetry with numbers -- I was browsing a fascinating book by Ivan Moscovich, The Puzzle Universe:  A History of Mathematics in 315 Puzzles (Firefly Books, 2015) and came to the following diagramI offer it as a visual poem. 

In addition to the squares, what other areas constructed on the sides of a right triangle may be correctly summed to give a third area of the same shape?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Visual poems with numbers

     I have a good friend who does not care for the sorts of poetry that are written today.  When I asked what he likes he cited "When I Was One-and-Twenty" by A E Housman (1859-1936) and the sonnet "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822).   My own preferences in poems, on the other hand, are less certain.  I like to explore, to discover what new things may be said within new forms and constraints.  The following selection, "Notes on Numbers" by Richard Kostelanetz, introduces some of the ideas that this artist/writer/critic explores in his visual poetry -- with numbers -- examples of which are available through links offered at the end of this posting.

Notes on Numbers      by Richard Kostelanetz  

Friday, December 11, 2015

Alphamath - poetry built on 4, 8

Since the late 1960s Toronto poet Victor Coleman has been energetically committed to innovated poetic practices.  A fine introduction to this poet is offered by Alex Porco in this linked review of Coleman's recent book, ivH: An Alphamath Serial (Book Thug, 2010).
          ivH: An Alphamath Serial is a book-length poem composed in the tradition 
of such precursors as Pythagoras, who taught that Number was the essence of all things; 
Plato, who argued that geometry was the foundation of all knowledge; 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Colorful mathematics for your smartphone

     "Bhaskara II (1114-1185) was an Indian mathematician and astronomer. He composed the Siddhanta Siromani, a treatise in four parts -- Lilavati (basics), Bijaganita (algebra), Grahaganita (planetary motion) and Goladhyaya (spheres)."
     This quotation comes from an early page of a new (2015) graphic e-book entitled The Illustrated Lilavati -- the text is based on a 1816 John Taylor translation, edited and illustrated for lilboox by Somdip Datta and available for download on smartphones and other devices.  Lilavati (named for the daughter of Bhaskara) was written in 1150 and was a standard textbook for arithmetic in India for many years.
     This e-book contains 25 illustrated problems (and solutions); here is the first:

Sunday, December 6, 2015

This blog (then and now) and Pascal

     When I began this blog in 2010, I imagined up to 100 postings -- I saw it as a way to share math-related poetry that I had written and gathered during my years of teaching.  Now, as I prepare my 748th post, I am thinking about how I can organize my posts to make them findable and useful to the reader who visits and browses herein.

One thing that I have recently done is to update the blog's searchability -- 
in the right column you will find a search box.  

If you enter a term like "math" into the box, the search finds most of the posts in the entire blog and is thus not very helpful -- but you might try the term "triangle" and you would find about 20 relevant posts; one of them (from October 13, 2010) has the title "Varieties of triangles -- by Guillevic" and is the most-visited entry herein.  If you are, like me, someone who looks for math publicity and opportunities for girls, you may choose to enter "girl" in the search box.  This search, too, will lead to about 20 postings. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Which hat? (from Slovenia)

     For a long time I have highly valued the work of Eastern European poets -- including Wislawa Szymborska, Miroslav Holub, Nichita Stanescu, Nina Cassian -- and have been pleased to find mathematical imagery in their work.  Early in November I had the privilege of attending a reading at the Goethe-Institut Washington that featured Slovenian poet Aleš Šteger -- born in 1973, winner of many awards, and described as the most translated Slovenian author of his generation.  A fun event -- from which I give you one of his slightly-mathematical offerings.

     Hat     by   Aleš Šteger (trans. Brian Henry)

     Who lives under the hat?
     Under the hat, which are three?
     Three hats. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Are we speaking of "mathematics" or "poetry"?

     This week started with the excitement of an email message from Evelyn Lamb with a link to her Scientific American blog where she created a fun-to-take online poetry-math quiz based on an idea of mine (first published in 1992):

Can you tell the difference between mathematics and poetry?
Here’s a link to a SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN quiz to help you decide?

And a couple of centuries ago there was William Wordsworth -- who also contemplated both poetry and mathematics:

               On poetry and geometric truth
               and their high privilege of lasting life,
               From all internal injury exempt,
               I mused; upon these chiefly:  and at length,
               My senses yielding to the sultry air,
               Sleep seized me, and I passed into a dream.
William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
The Prelude, Book 5