Friday, March 31, 2017

Math and poetry in film

     One of my delights in the last year has been viewing films about poets and mathematicians.   First, "The Man Who Knew Infinity" -- about the mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920) and, more recently "Neruda" about the Chilean politician  and poet, Pablo Neruda. And also, the film "Paterson" -- about a bus-driver poet named Paterson in the city of Paterson, NJ -- a city well-known for its earlier poet, William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) who immortalized his hometown in his very long poem, "Paterson."
Here is a link to my earlier posting of a poem by Jonathan Holden, "Ramanaujan."
     I have included elsewhere in this blog several poems by Pablo Neruda 
and offer links here:  "28325674549,"  from "The Heights of Macchu Pichu," 
and a two-line poem, "Point."
     The author of the poetry in the film "Paterson" is Ron Padgett -- 
and here are links to my previous postings of two of his poems: 
     At the website one may find 38 poems by William Carlos Williams and 11 poems by Pablo Neruda.  At one may find find 27 poems by Pablo Neruda and 120 poems by William Carlos Williams and 15 poems by Ron Padgett.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Split this Rock, Freedom Plow Award, April 21

     SPLIT THIS ROCK is a wonderful activist poetry organization -- based near to me in Washington, DC -- with a name based on a line by Langston Hughes.*  As a strong supporter of their mission to use poetry for positive social change, I want to announce one of their very special programs:
Friday, April 21 | 6 pm |Arts Club of Washington, DC 
The 2017 Freedom Plow Award for Poetry and Activism
Read about this years finalists,
 Francisco Aragón, Andrea Assaf,  
JP Howard, and Christopher Soto (aka Loma)  
on Split This Rock's Website.  Tickets may be purchased here. ($25 General, $10 Students).  

In October, 2013, the Freedom Plow Award was won by Eliza Griswold   -- see this blog posting to learn a bit about her work with the poetry of Afghan women.

 *The name "Split This Rock" is pulled from a line in “Big Buddy,” a poem from Langston Hughes.
             Don’t you hear this hammer ring?
             I’m gonna split this rock
             And split it wide!
             When I split this rock,
             Stand by my side.

And for a tiny mathy poem by Langston Hughes, go here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Math-themed poems at

     The poetry website is a wonderful source of thousands of poems.  During one recent visit to the site, I saw that they have a collection of themes and, when I examined these themes, I found that one of these is "Math"  -- and I enjoyed taking time to explore.
     When I read mathy poems by non-maths often I am intrigued by their alterations of correct mathematical statements -- part of "poetic license." Non-maths can use intriguing language that I, with my mathematics background, could not allow myself to say.  For example, George David Clark's poem "Kiss Over Zero"  has this opening line:

anything over zero is zero

I was delighted to find in this math-themed group several old favorites, one of which is "Counting" by Douglas Goetsch -- a poem among those Sarah Glaz and I gathered a few years back for the anthology, Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics (A K Peters / CRC Press, 2008) -- now available as an e-book.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Remember Emmy Noether!

     On today's date in 1882, mathematician Emmy Noether (1882-1935) was born.  Noether became fixed in my attention when, recently out of college, I saw her photo in a display at the New York World's Fair.  Her life and her pioneering work became inspiration for me as I followed her in mathematics. I wrote a poem, "My Dance is Mathematics," in her honor; it begins with these words:

        They called you der Noether, as if mathematics
        was only for men. In 1964, nearly thirty years
        past your death, I saw you in a spotlight
        in a World's Fair mural, "Men of Modern Mathematics."

The complete poem, "My Dance is Mathematics," is available here.  Its final statement is:
They say she was good / For a woman.

Scroll down -- or follow this link -- to still more poems that celebrate the women of mathematics.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Is unreasonableness ever reasonable?

     This morning I have been thinking about these words of George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) that were part of the postings on the door of one of my mathematics colleagues at Bloomsburg (PA) University:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: 
the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. 
Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

     My reflections on the word "unreasonable" also led me back to this important article from 1960 -- "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences."  (And I found here some analysis of the article.)
     As a final comment on unreasonableness I offer "Atomic Split" -- a poem by another voice named Bernard Shaw.  (Big thanks to mathematician, writer of both poetry and fiction, scholar extraordinaire -- and friend -- Robert Dawson, who alerted me to the fact that more than one writer carries this famous name.)  This following poem I found here at   

Atomic Split      by Bernard Shaw

What a terrible thing to do,
Man has split the atom in two.
For peaceful purposes so we are told,

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Julia . . . Set Aside Gender Roles . . .

       For me there is a special pleasure in finding in my reading a word like "identity" or "prime" that has a special mathematical meaning in addition to its ordinary usage.  And, because poets work hard to capture multiple images in their work, poems are where such pleasure occurs most often.  Poet and songwriter and professor Lawrence M. Lesser has beautifully connected the Julia Set of fractal geometry with his grandmother, Julia -- and he has given me permission to share his poem, "Julia,"  offered below.  This poem is offered, along with other work by Lesser, in a Poetry Folder, "Moving Between Inner and Outer Worlds," in the most-recent issue of the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics.

For more about Julia Sets, visit

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Again we celebrate Pi !

 Now I give  -- I again enumerate π's digits, count out . . . 
3.141592653 . . . 

Tuesday, March 14, is Pi-day -- and I invite you to browse or SEARCH this blog for references to π / Pi and to learn more about Pilish (a language in which, as above, word-lengths follow the pattern of the digits of π).  Here are a links to several of the postings available:

       Rhymes to help you remember the digits of Pi
       Poetry that imagines auctioning the digits of Pi
       A Circle poem in Pilish 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Circle of Silence -- and sexual harassment

       Colonel Stacey K. Vargas is a professor of Physics at the Virginia Military Institute.  I found her poem -- with its vicious circles -- in the wonderful and provocative anthology, Raising Lilly Ledbetter:  Women Poets Occupy the Workspace, edited by Carolyne Wright, M. L. Lyons, and Eugenia Toledo (Lost Horse Press, 2015).

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."
I turn to the inspector general and say, "After everything you heard in this investigation, 
       you find this acceptable?"
The inspector general turns to my department head but remains silent. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Honor Math-Women ...

       The first math-woman that inspired me was Laura Church; the first famous math-woman (someone with a theorem named after her) whom I came to admire -- and write a poem about -- was Emmy Noether (1882-1935).  As a recent film featuring NASA mathematician, Katherine Johnson, points out, math-women are:

Hidden figures:
women no one
notices are
changing the world.

Other living mathematicians who deserve to be more well-known include:
         Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian mathematician at Stanford who in 2014 won the prestigious Fields Medal for her work related to the symmetry of curved surfaces.
         Moon Duchin, a Tufts University professor who is using geometry to fight gerrymandering.
         Cathy O'Neil, a data scientist (and blogger at whose recent book Weapons of Math Destruction helps readers to understand the roles (and threats) of big data in our society. 

 TODAY is the International Women's Day!

Celebrate the day by getting to know some math-women.  Try for ten. Learn their names, read their bios.  Here are two websites that can help:

And here is a link to a list of women who deserve, but do not have, Wikipedia Pages.  Can you help?

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Geometry of Wood

    A recent email from Todd Sformo, a biologist living in Barrow, Alaska, alerted me to his prose poem "Knots" in the online publication Hippocampus Magazine; a sample from "Knots" is offered below.
     Sformo's poem, which offers vivid descriptions of geometric patterns in wood, uses as epigraph several sentences from the Polish mathematician Stanislaw M Ulam (1909-1984). (Ulam was involved in the wartime Manhattan Project and in the design of thermonuclear weapons.)

When I was a boy, I felt that the role of rhyme in poetry 
was to compel one to find the unobvious 
because of the necessity of finding a word which rhymes.