Tuesday, March 31, 2015

April is . . . a time for math and poetry . . .

     Once upon a time
     I counted to the tenth prime
     and found a word to rhyme.

Tomorrow is not only April Fool's Day -- it also begins "National Poetry Month" and "National Mathematics Awareness Month."  I hope you will scroll down through this blog for math-poetry intersections -- and that you will like what you find and return for more.

(If you are near Washington, DC, consider a visit to MathFest on Saturday, April 18.)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Science Verse

Recently coincidence has brought to me two collections of poems about  science -- first, the 2014 issue of The Nassau Review, a gift from editor and poet Christina M. Rau. The second collection is a "used" children's book, Science Verse (by John Scieszka and Lane Smith) found at the wonderful Kensington Row Bookshop (scroll down their webpage to find out about their monthly poetry readings).  I include below two rhyming stanzas from Science Verse, followed two selections from The Nassau Review 2014 -- a poem by Diane Giardi which is a parody (or isomorphic image) of a nursery rhyme and a poem  by Katherine Hauswirth which may or may not consider infinity.

Hey Diddle Diddle

Hey diddle diddle, what kind of riddle
Is this nature of light?
Sometimes it's a wave,
Other times a particle . . .
But which answer will be marked right?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The problem of time

Californian Brenda Hillman is a poet whose work I like and admire.  In "Time Problem" she weaves prime numbers into a deft description of the dilemma of not enough time.

       Time Problem     by Brenda Hillman

       The problem
       of time.      Of there not being 
       enough of it.

       My girl came to the study
       and said Help me;
       I told her I had a time problem 
       which meant:
       I would die for you but I don’t have ten minutes. 
       Numbers hung in the math book 
       like motel coathangers. The Lean 
       Cuisine was burning

Monday, March 23, 2015

March 23 -- Emmy Noether's birthday

Today, March 23, 2015, Google celebrates the 133rd birthday of mathematician Emmy Noether.  In support of the celebration here is a link to "My Dance is Mathematics," a poem I wrote to honor this pioneering mathematician.  I hope that celebrations of Noether and other math-women will help to create a world in which these lines from my poem about her are no longer true:

          If a woman's dance is mathematics,
          she dances alone.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

March 21 -- World Poetry Day

Yesterday poetry was celebrated around the world -- the Guardian reported the event with mention of Cafés around the world that offered a cup of coffee in exchange for a poem.  The occasion caused me to turn to one of my favorite international collections, The Horse Has Six Legs (Graywolf, 2010) -- an anthology of Serbian poetry translated and edited by poet Charles Simic.  On 29 April 2011 I posted "Forgetful Number" by Yugoslav poet Vasko Popa (1922-1991) -- and here is another of Popa's poems.  This one is part of a cycle of poems about "the little box" and it involves recursion.

       Last News about the Little Box     by Vasko Popa

       The little box that contains the world
       Fell in love with herself
       And conceived
       Still another little box.   

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Multiplied by Rain

     There are many mathematical terms that are used in daily life -- not only multiplied and divided and negative but also closure and identity and field and commute -- and it is fun for me, a math person, to see poets use such terms in new and thoughtful ways.
     Poet Jane Hirschfield weaves words into fine tapestries that give us new dimensions of meaning.  The Table of Contents of her new book, The Beauty (Knopf, 2015), is scattered with mathematical terms -- we find zero, plus, subtraction,  and the final title, "Like Two Negative Numbers Multiplied by Rain."  This poem first appeared in Poetry (2012) and is available at the Poetry Foundation website along with more than thirty additional Hirshfield poems.

Like Two Negative Numbers Multiplied by Rain   by Jane Hirshfield

     Lie down, you are horizontal.
     Stand up, you are not. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Russian toast (with mathematics)

Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting the Washington Museum of Poetry and Music -- a collection in Rockville, MD gathered and maintained in the home of Uli Zislin who has lived in the US since 1996. (Among other treasures, the musuem has recordings of poets Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, Osip Mandelstam, and Anastasia Tsvetaeva.)    At the time of my visit, Zislin presented me with one of his own poems that includes a bit of mathematics.  The original Russian version of Zislin's poem is at the bottom of this post.  Prior to that I offer a translation into English by Arlington poet, teacher, and award-winning Russian translator, Katherine Young.  Thank you, Katherine.

        A Pedagogical Toast     by Uli Zislin

                 translated by Katherine E. Young

       Friends and colleagues, pedagogues!
       We’re not philosophers, not gods.
       We’re simply people, soldiers of God,
       destined to suffer and to love.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Three Greguerías

From Portugal, from Francisco -- who emailed me the gift of these lines:

Three Greguerías   by Rámon Gómez de la Serna (1888-1963)
                                             translated by Francisco J Craveiro de Carvalho and JoAnne

Holding her hoop the little girl goes to school and to the playground,
to play with the circle and its tangent.

Zeros are the eggs from which all the other numbers are hatched.

Numbers are the best acrobats in the world: they stand on top of each other without falling down.

Ramón Gómez de la Serna is considered the father of the greguería -- a one-liner in which he combined gentle humor with a metaphor. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Similar, self-similar -- fractals, a poem

      In geometry two objects are said to be similar if they have the same shape --- which happens if their angles are the same size and occur in the same sequence. For example, any pair of triangles with angles 30, 60, and 90 degrees are similar; also, the lengths of pairs of corresponding sides of these triangles have the same ratio.
      A term used in the terminology of fractals is self-similarity: a self-similar object has exactly (or approximately) the same shape as a part of itself.  A variety of objects in the real world, such as ferns and coastlines, are approximately self-similar: parts of them show the same statistical properties at many scales. At the end of this post are a couple of diagrams that illustrate how a fractal may be developed.  But first, experience the generative beauty of self-similarity via a poem by Maryland poet Greg McBride.  Mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010), quoted in McBride's epigraph, often is nicknamed "the father of fractals."

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The mathematician, she . . . .

     Tomorrow, March 8, is the International Day of the Woman -- and I celebrate the day with mixed feelings.  YES, there are many women I want to celebrate. BUT WHY are they not celebrated daily, equally with men? And a more specific concern, WHY, when the word "mathematician" is used, is the person assumed to be a man. (There is, on the other hand, a nice non-gendered neutrality in numbers -- as in this first stanza of "Numbers," by Mary Cornish, found below.)
      In this posting I celebrate Grace Brewster Murray Hopper (1906-1992) -- a mathematician with a doctorate from Yale, a navy admiral, a computer scientist who led in the development of COBOL, an early (c.1959) programming language.  A person I had the good fortune to meet when she visited Bloomsburg University in 1984 to receive an honorary Doctor of Science Degree.  Hopper was imaginative and articulate; here is some poetry found in her words.

                               If it's a 
                               good idea,
                               do it.  

Friday, March 6, 2015

Celebrate Pi -- write in Pilish

On 3/14/15 many of us will celebrate  π - day; for those who like to gaze on the digits of  π,  one hundred thousand of them are available here.  In honor of this upcoming special day I have composed a small stanza in Pilish (the language whose word-lengths follow the digits of  π ). 

3.  1  4  
Get a list,
 1  5  
I shout,
   9  2  6  5  3  5

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Women in Maths -- on Facebook

     Recently I prepared an item for Rachel Levy's Grandma Got STEM blog that told a bit about my granddaughters who like math.  My preparation for that posting led me to focus on my wish to have math be a fun place for girls to hang out -- a place for lots of girls:  feminine girls, sporty girls, popular girls, silly girls (as well as geek girls).  Mathematics has mostly been a lonely place for females -- my first  girl-friend who was also a math person was a colleague whom I met in my 40s (see my poem for Toni, "Girl-Talk").   I want mathematics to be a welcoming place for my granddaughters. A place with friends.
     Related to this concern, wonderful news came in my email box recently from Susanne Pumpluen (video) at the University of Nottingham.  She has started a Women in Maths page on Facebook .  There one can find bios, videos, news links and FRIENDS.  Visit.  LIKE. Offer your comments and support.