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   

In astrophysics you take the long view
In chemistry you explode and blend, it is a bit like freestyle cooking, the Yiddish term
     would be: you potschke
In biology you smell the flowers, the enticing flowers, and you play with mice, and you
     write grant proposals

In jurisprudence they say there is no justice
In philosophy they say there is no truth
In literary studies they say everybody come along be ironic now

Business school we systematize the competitive strategies we learned in the sandbox
Engineering moves us firmly into manhood, we grip the material world in our fists
Computer science assists us toward the goal of replacing our species with a new,
improved, more efficient form of life, based in electronics instead of carbon—
many of us
are rushing to transform ourselves as quickly as possible

Religion is still hot
People keep plunging passionately into and out of it at the usual brisk rate
Geography suggests the future dominance of North America by Spanish speaking people
but it does not say when; geology looks stony, takes the long view

Music bridges mathematics, the soul of the universe, and my personal soul
Visual art is the bridge between my bag of body and bones and stuff in the 
painterly universe
Drama crosses this bridge on foot

In the novel they say omit nothing, harvest the entire goddamn world
In memoir they say the self is silently weeping, give it a tissue
In poetry they say the arrow may be blown off course by storm and returned
     by miracle

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