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. 

A few lines selected from "The End of the Day" by Helena Minton:

     Wait at the time clock to punch out
     the minute hand to move to 5
       . . . .
     wait for coffee, lunch
     two lengths of time
     push me pull me
     wait it out
     point A to point B
     time strung like a clothesline

The first stanza of "Night Harvest" by Lam Thi My Du
(translated from the Vietnamese by Martha Collins and Thuy Dinh)
     White circles of conical hats have come out
     Like the quiet skies of our childhood
     Like an egret's spreading wings in the night
     White circles evoking the open sky

The anthology Raising Lilly Ledbetter:  Women Poets Occupying the Workplace  was edited by Caroline Wright, M.L. Lyons & Eugenia Toledo (Lost Horse Press, 2015). Also available in the anthology are "Ordinary Women Scientists" by Mary Alexandra Agner  and Jo Pitkin's poem celebrating Ada Lovelace -- and from this same anthology -- which was posted here on July 16, 2015.  Two recent and fine books that recognize and celebrate women in mathematics and the sciences are Seduced by Logic:  Émilie du Châtelet, Mary Somerville and the Newtonian Revolution by Robyn Arianrhod (Oxford, 2011) and Headstrong:  42 Women Who Changed Science and the World  by Rachel Swaby (Broadway Books, 2015).


  1. We were just trying to tackle this in class! (Through the historical viewpoint of Sophie Germaine) THanks for the timely post to share with my students.

    1. John--
      So glad the post connected with your classroom need! it is always a delight for me to welcome new readers!