Thursday, June 29, 2017

The NUMBERS that help us REMEMBER . . .

     Born in Lithuania, poet Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004) became fluent in Polish, Lithuanian, Russian, English and French.  He emigrated to the United States (to California) in 1960 and was the 1980 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature.  He was not fluent in the language of mathematics but his poem "The Titanic" -- written in Berkeley in 1985 and excerpted below -- illustrates the power of numbers in poetic description AND the circumstances of which numbers are remembered.

from    The Titanic    by  Czesław Miłosz

Events--catastrophes of which they learned and those others of which they did not want to know. In Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a flood in 1889 took 2,300 lives; 700 persons perished in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.  Yet they did not notice the earthquake at Messina in Sicily (1908),

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Chains of Reasoning

     In a recent conversation about mathematics, one of us said, "Mathematics is not about what is true, or cannot be, but is a collection of valid chains of reasoning."  And from there my mind wandered on to Clarence Wylie's sonnet (offered below) -- which is the final poem in a wide-ranging anthology that Sarah Glaz and I edited : Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics (A K Peters/CRC Press, 2008).  Enjoy Wylie's play with thinking about the "holy order" of mathematics.

       Paradox      by Clarence R Wylie, Jr. (1911-1995)

       Not truth, nor certainty. These I forswore
       In my novitiate, as young men called
       To holy orders must abjure the world.  

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Euclid's Iron Hand

      Alice Major is a Canadian poet who admits to having loved mathematics since girlhood and who often includes mathematical ideas and images in her poems.  The first poet laureate of Edmonton, Alberta, Major has been instrumental in spreading a love of poetry in many directions and venues.  The selection below, "Euclid's Iron Hand," first appeared in Wild Equations, the Spring 2016 issue of Talking-Writing, an online journal that also in 2012 featured math-related poems and an essay by TW editor, Carol Dorf, "Why Poets Sometimes Think in Numbers."

Both Alice Major and Carol Dorf are part of the Poetry Reading
at this summer's BRIDGES Math-Arts Conference July 27-31 in Waterloo, Ontario.
Will we see you there?

Euclid's Iron Hand    by Alice Major

My iron cannot cope
with non-Euclidean geometry.
Antique and irritable, it insists
on plane surfaces and the fifth postulate,
hissing, Lie down flat, goddamit.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Three Plus Four Divided by Seven

     A good friend, Doru Radu -- with whom I have partnered to translate some Romanian poetry into English -- shares with me a love for the work of Polish poet and 1996 Nobelist, Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012).  Doru lives in Poland now and had a chance to meet Szymborska, to hear her read, and to translate some of her work into his native Romanian. And last summer, when he traveled to New York, he brought to me a copy of the posthumously published collection, Enough (Wydawnictwo a5).  Here are a couple of mathy stanzas from one of its poems, "Confessions of a Reading Machine."

Confessions of a Reading Machine     by Wisława Szymborska 
 translated by Clare Cavanagh

I, Number Three Plus Four Divided by Seven,
am renowned for my vast linguistic knowledge.
I now recognize thousands of languages
employed by extinct people
in their histories.  

Friday, June 16, 2017

Fondness for numbers . . .

     Today I am looking back to a posting on 23 April 2011 that includes the first stanza of one of my favorite mathy poems; here is a copy-and-paste of a part of that day's entry.
      A poem that offers affection for mathematics is "Numbers," by Mary Cornish, found as Poem 8 at Poetry 180 (a one-a-day collection of poems for secondary students) as well as at The Poetry Foundation. Cornish's poem begins with this stanza:

     I like the generosity of numbers.
     The way, for example,
     they are willing to count
     anything or anyone:
     two pickles, one door to the room,
     eight dancers dressed as swans.   

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Equation after equation, smiling . . .

       Today's news offers the exciting announcement that Tracy K. Smith is the new Poet Laureate of the United States.  I have not found much of mathematics in her work BUT there are these (offered below) provocative lines of Section 6 from the title poem of  Life on Mars:  Poems  (Graywolf Press, 2011).  This Pulitzer Prize-winning collection is an elegy for Smith's father, a scientist who worked on the Hubble telescope.  

from  Life on Mars       by Tracy K. Smith


Who understands the world, and when
Will he make it make sense?  Or she?

Maybe there is a pair of them, and they sit
Watching the cream disperse into their coffee

Like the A-bomb. This equals that, one says,
Arranging a swarm of coordinates  

Monday, June 12, 2017

Finding the Normal Curve

     A poem I have much admired since I first saw it (January, 2016) in the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics is "Pension Building, Washington, DC" -- shown below.  At first glance I thought this work by poet E. Laura Golberg to be a growing-melting syllable-snowball, but her syllables conform to line-length rather than count, offering us -- in both shape and content -- a bit of statistics, the normal curve.  Please enjoy!

       Pension Building, Washington, DC    by E. Laura Golberg

       of the
       curve can
       be found in
       old buildings    

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The treasures of memory . . .

                 The Days of the Month

     Thirty days hath September,
     April, June, and November;
     February has twenty-eight alone,
     All the rest have thirty-one,
     Excepting leap-year--that's the time
     When February's days are twenty-nine.
                                                       OLD SONG.

Yesterday, hoping to arrange my bookshelves in better order, behind other newer volumes I found an old friend:   Poems Every Child Should Know (Doubleday, Page & Company, 1913).  On the title page an inscription indicating the book was a present to my Aunt Ruth on her tenth birthday.   The collection -- with its poems by Robert Louis Stevenson and Eugene Field and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and so many others -- got me to thinking how much I have enjoyed throughout my life the few poems I have memorized.  And finding the poem above reminded me how much I also have valued particular mnemonic devices for remembering critical information. 

This brief stanza gives thirteen digits of π:    See, I have a rhyme assisting
                                                        my feeble brain,
                                                        its tasks sometimes resisting.
 More poetry for π is available here.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Celebrate mathematics -- and the other liberal arts!

     Before it became linked to science and engineering and computing, mathematics was one of the liberal arts.  And, in my view, it should continue in this role also. 
     In a recent posting to the WOM-PO email list-serve to which I subscribe, this provocative poem by Alicia Ostriker recently appeared -- and the poet has given me permission to post it here.  This selection, "The Liberal Arts" is found in Ostriker's latest collection, Waiting for the Light, published in February, 2017 by University of Pittsburgh Press.   Thanks, Alicia, for your poem.

The Liberal Arts      by Alicia Ostriker

In mathematics they say the most beautiful solution is the correct one
In physics they say everything that can happen must happen
In history they say the more it changes the more it is the same