Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Future of Prediction

     As well as being National Poetry Month, April is Mathematics Awareness Month and this year's theme is "The Future of Prediction."  In search of a poem on the theme, I found the following sonnet by poet Joyce Nower -- third in a section of 20 sonnets, "Meditations of Hypatia of Alexandria," in her collection, The Sister Chronicles and Other Poems (IUniverse, 2012), available in both print and electronic versions.

3.  Scales Can't Calculate*     by Joyce Nower

       Hypatia, Math, God One, can't plot the locus
       of soul and star, predict exactly where
       and when you die, whose hand deals death.  No hocus

Monday, March 28, 2016

Contemplating the heavens

English writer G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) was a poet but was better known for his pithy sayings.   For example, we have the following statement (originally found here). 

         between the poet
         and the mathematician
         is that the poet tries to get
         his head into the heavens
         while the mathematician
         tries to get the heavens
         into his head.

     Alas, Chesterton's comment obeys the common assumption that the male pronoun should be used for mathematicians.  Another poetic comment on mathematicians is found in a poem by Anthony Hecht -- "Mathematics Considered As a Vice" -- available here at  Hecht's poem  offers a strongly negative view of the abstract nature of mathematics.
     Rivalry between mathematics and poetry comes to a head in April -- during which we will celebrate both "National Mathematics Awareness Month" and "National Poetry Month."

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Shape of the World -- a dream of equality

     One of the most vital components of the Washington DC poetry scene is Split This Rock -- an  organization that speaks and acts against injustice.  (Co-founder and Executive Director, Sarah Browning, is a long-time activist and a fine poet.)  One of STR's 2016 programs has been Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 a book arts and cultural festival that commemorates the 2007 bombing of Baghdad’s historic bookselling street, and emphasizes free exchange of ideas and knowledge, in solidarity with the people of Iraq.  Several weeks ago at one of these events I met poet Dunya Mikhail and her translator, Kareem James Abu-Zeid, and was involved in discussion and reading from The Iraqi Nights (New Directions, 2015).  Here is a mathy poem from that collection.

       The Shape of the World      by Dunya Mikhail
                                           translated from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid)
       If the world were flat
       like a flying carpet,
       our sorrow would have a beginning
       and an end.

       If the world were square,
       we'd lie low in a corner
       whenever the war
       plays hide and seek.

       If the world were round,
       our dreams would take turns
       on the Ferris wheel,
       and we'd all be equal.

     A link to the Arabic original version of this poem is shown at the bottom of Mikhail's webpage -- a link that also offers  a recording of her reading this poem, set to music.
     And please note that coming up soon is the  2016 Split This Rock Poetry Festival (April 14-17, 2016) with many excellent workshops and readings.  Learn about it here and register (online registration closes March 31).  See you there.

Monday, March 21, 2016

World Poetry Day -- Celebrate favorites!

     Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
     Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;

     Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
     I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

                      From "Dirge without Music" by Edna St Vincent Millayoffered by Hermann Weyl
                      in a Memorial Address for Amalie "Emmy" Noether on April 26, 1935 at Bryn Mawr College.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Poems that Count

On January 6 of this year I attended a wonderful poetry reading (sponsored by The Word Works) that featured the work of poets Tera Ragan and James Ragan (Tera's father). Their poetry is rich in imagery of their birthplaces -- near Pittsburgh -- and Czechoslovakia (where James' parents were born and a place they visited often).  Please enjoy these lovely and varied poems that include a few well-chosen numbers:   "Alcove" by Tera Vale Ragan; "Beckett Had Only One Student" and "The Eskimo's Twelve Expressions of White" by James Ragan.
       Alcove     by Tera Vale Ragan

       Brick upon stone, a growing
       he builds a new family home up
       from the ground
                                        cement and marble
       tile to ceiling
       beam and red oak
                                        he paid for with cash.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A poem is an equation?

     Exiled Romanian poet Nina Cassian (1924-2014) spoke with a daring and imaginative voice that I have much admired.  And she occasionally used mathematical imagery in her work -- as in the following poem:

Controversy   by Nina Cassian
                                          (translated from Romanian by William Jay Smith)
I wrote a poem, an oblique poem,
a kind of calligram, I mean.
Someone said it was an equation
being solved behind a screen. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Celebrate Math Women

     March is Women's History Month and, although this year's theme focuses on women in public service and government, my own thoughts tend toward women in mathematics.  My post on July 21, 2015 focuses on math women -- and a google search of the blog using "math women" will lead to a host of additional poems and links.  Enjoy!
     To celebrate math-women one must first be able to name them; here is a link to an important and relevant article by Judy Green, "How Many Women Mathematicians Can You Name?"

I am the girl voice,
Drafts scribed--thoughts stretched, smoothed, squared, sighed --
Catch here now my I.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Inspired by Pi

     Last year, a few days after Pi-Day, my email had a link (Thanks, Paul Geiger!) to an example of Pilish -- this one a circle poem by Mike Keith that represents the initial 402 digits of Pi  -- and I have, at last, posted the poem below.  Keith's poem first appeared in the The Mathematical Intelligencer in 1986. 

     And here is a link to musical Pi --at the webpage of "The Derivatives" are math parodies written and performed by Bloomsburg University professors William Calhoun, Kevin Ferland, and Erik Wynters, including The Pi  Song (also known as 3.14159/Circle).

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Arnold diffusion (and poets of Romania)

     I have had the good fortune to attend two BIRS Math / Creative Writing workshops in Banff (most recently in January 2016) and one of the organizers of these workshops has been Florin Diacu, a Romanian-Canadian mathematician-poet at Canada's University of Victoria. (For a bit more about my interest in Romanian poets, you may visit this posting from 2012 ; for still more, use "Romania" as a blog-search term.)
     Recently I discovered the following poem by Florin in the January 2014 issue of the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics and that online journal's open-access policy permits me to offer it here.  I have wondered whether it is prudent of me to present a poem about Arnold diffusion, a topic about which I have scant mathematical background.  But I like it, even though my understanding is incomplete; I hope you like it too.