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. 
This forces novel associations and almost guarantees 
deviations from routine chains or trains of thought. 
It becomes paradoxically a sort of automatic mechanism of originality. 
I am pretty sure that this “habit” of originality exists in mathematical research.
—S. Ulam, Adventures of a Mathematician

The poem "Knots" by Sformo does not, despite his citation of Ulam's words, contain rhyme -- but it is alive with geometric imagery.  Here is a sample:

. . . Slowly zooming-out from knots, we see the widening breath of gnarls encircled by growth rings the shape of a magnetosphere and caught by the sound of a pebble dropping into a still pond. The watery capillary waves are in floorboards and wooden library card catalogs. We see figures in panel compress into bow shocks, iron filings arched by some alluring vigor. Another pebble: solar flare in cat’s paw while magnetic shivers broaden down beams where lines of force, this time, were affected by a slight solar breeze that makes cusps and tails, auroras of a dormant bud.  . . .
You may read all of "Knots" here.

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