Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Revolutions and singularities

     Early in June it was my privilege to hear poet Lesley Wheeler read as part of the Joaquin Miller Poetry Series on summer Sundays in Washington, DC's Rock Creek Park.  Lesley read from her wonderful 2015 collection, Radioland, in which I found this mathy sonnet, a poem of twists and singularities and rich with double meanings:

       Concentric Grooves, 1983     by Lesley Wheeler

       Every whorl in the floorboard spins clockwise,
       the grain widening round the stain, a stream
       of years circling a burn-brown knot.  Strum
       and crackly gap.  Music drowns a wheeze 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Important online sources for mathy poems

Every issue of the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics contains poetry.
The Spring 2016 issue of TalkingWriting has more than a score of mathy poems.

This blog has offered math-linked poetry online since 2010, now with over 800 posts.  Scroll down to browse OR use the SEARCH box to look for poems with a particular mathematical image. The lower right-hand-column offers key-words that can be useful search terms.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Exponential power

From this week's New Yorker (June 27, 2016) from a poem by Maya Ribault entitled "Society of Butterflies" this mathy statement:

                                . . .                 I save  
            for retirement—to my bohemian eyes, 
            a fortune—though they say you need more
            than a million. Immerse yourself in the exponential
            power of dividends.      . . . 

Read the entire poem here.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A sonnet with numbers

     Sonnet: Now I see them    by Michael Palmer

          Now I see them sitting me before a mirror.
          There’s noise and laughter. Somebody
          mentions that hearing is silver
          before we move on to Table One
          with the random numbers. I look down
          a long street containing numbers.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Wanting things proportional . . .

Here is a reflective poem by San Diego poet Ben Doller (found also at and included here with permission of the poet).

       Proportion    by Ben Doller

       Just want things

       Just things,
       not all.

       Not kings, kings
       should be below:    

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Women occupy mathematics

     Poems thrive on imagery created from specific (rather than vague) details -- and numbers and other math terms are very specific!  Below I present several samples of mathematical imagery in poems from an excellent and important recent anthology Raising Lilly Ledbetter:  Women Poets Occupy the Workspace.

Here are the opening lines of "Circle of Silence" by Stacey K. Vargas:

     Like an electron trapped in an unstable orbit, I am seated 
                           in a circle of powerful men.
     In an awkward moment small talk ends 
                           and the meeting abruptly begins.
     The superintendent turns to me and says, 
                           "This was not sexual harassment."

And the opening lines of "The Typist" by Barbara Drake:

     I made 87 1/2 cents an hour typing,
     when I was a college student. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

When parallel lines meet, that is LOVE

Bernadette Turner teaches mathematics at Lincoln University in Missouri. And, via a long-ago email (lost for a while, and then found) she has offered this love poem enlivened by the terminology of geometry.

Parallel Lines Joined Forever    by Bernadette Turner

       We started out as just two parallel lines
       in the plane of life.
       I noticed your good points from afar,
       but always kept same distance.
       I assumed that you had not noticed me at all.  

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Symbols shape our thoughts

     In mathematics -- as in spoken languages -- we have learned to use symbols to shape our thoughts.  Pioneering artist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) carefully expresses this important idea in terms of chess. 
     “The chess pieces are the block alphabet
     which shapes thoughts; and these thoughts, although
     making a visual design on the chess-board,
     express their beauty abstractly, like a poem...

     I have come to the personal conclusion
     that while all artists are not chess players,
     all chess players are artists.”
―Marcel Duchamp
This and other stimulating statements from Duchamp are available here.

During these days of celebration of the life of Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) I have refreshed my memory of his notable quotes (many of which are found here).  Here is one with some numbers:
     A man who views the world 
the same at 50 
     as he did at 20 
has wasted 30 years of his life.

Monday, June 6, 2016

A poem, a contradiction . . .

     One strategy for proving a mathematical theorem is a "proof by contradiction."  In such a proof one begins by supposing the opposite of what is to be proved -- and then reasons logically to obtain a statement that contradicts a known truth. This contradiction verifies that our opposite-assumption was wrong and that our original statement-to-be-proved is indeed correct.   (An easily-read introduction to "proof-by-contradiction" is given here.)
       Peggy Shumaker is an Alaskan poet whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a reading at Bloomsburg University where I was a math professor a few years ago.  Her poem, "What to Count On," below, has a beautiful surprise after a sequence of negations -- and reminds me of the structure of a proof-by-contradiction.

What to Count On     by Peggy Shumaker

Not one star, not even the half moon       
       on the night you were born
Not the flash of salmon
       nor ridges on blue snow 
Not the flicker of raven’s
       never-still eye