Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Calculating Pi -- a poet's view

     Initially I was drawn to a reading at The Writer's Center in Bethesda a couple of weeks ago because my neighbor, non-fiction writer and editor, Josh Tyree was reading from his London explorations, Vanishing Streets.  But the two writer's who read with Tyree also were known to me and are remarkable:
                    Annie Fincha poet I have known through WomPo, an online community (founded by her) that supports women-poets.  Links to Annie's work in this blog -- which feature items that pay careful attention to syllable-counts -- are here, (for July 29, 1010) and here, (for June 27, 2015).
                    Gary Fincke, who was once almost a neighbor of mine -- I taught mathematics at Bloomsburg (PA) University and he taught and developed a creative writing program at nearby Susquehanna University -- and, before I moved south to the Washington, DC area, Gary and I knew each other through local literary events.  It was great fun to hear Gary read not only poetry -- I offer a sample of his mathy work below -- but also short fiction; I came away from the November 11 reading with a copy of his new book of short stories, The Killer's Dog (Elixir Press, 2017), which is a very intriguing collection.

Fincke's poetry does not shy from mathematics and "The Butterfly Effect" was posted in this blog back on November 22, 2010.  Here, from Fincke's collection, Blood Ties:  Working-Class Poems (Time Being Press, 2002) is "Calculating Pi."

Calculating Pi     by Gary Fincke

          "Pi has been calculated to 480 million decimal points."
                                                                                 --  Newsweek

Printed out, this means six hundred miles of digits,
A paper carpet from Pittsburgh to Chicago  

Monday, November 27, 2017

Science Poetry from Spain

     Several weeks ago I got an email from science journalist Elena Soto, from Palma de Mallorca, Spain, director of a weekly science supplement for the newspaper El Mundo.  Soto told me of her poetry -- recently, Kernlose Winter , a collection containing a number of poems with a scientific theme -- and her blog Establo de Pegaso that offers samplings of science-poetry fare.
     Soto's poem, "The equation of zebra stripes" -- offered below -- is about morphogenesis (the structural changes that occur as an organism develops).  From Kernlose Winter and found also in Soto's blogthe poem is dedicated to codebreaker Alan Turing.  I offer first Soto's English translation and, following that, her original Spanish version.  Thank you, Elena, for sharing this and the links to more of your work.

The equation of zebra stripes     by Elena Soto
                          for Alan Mathison Turing
singular as zebra stripes,
wrinkle borders on maps.
Enchants the pupil,
molds her to the smooth curve of the dunes.
Drag until the fur
the winding path of deltas
the coastline.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Burma Shave Mathematics

     One of the positive aspects of many math journals is that they are not shy about including poems that related to mathematics -- a negative aspect of that practice is that the poems are not included in the Contents listing for that publication.  And so, the fact that my poem "A Mathematician's Nightmare" appears on page 31 of the February 2001 issue of Math Horizons is lost to all but those of us who have a copy of that magazine.  Also unrecorded in these Contents is a page-full of rhymes written in response to a contest that asked for math poems composed in the style of road-side advertising for Burma Shave.  From the late 1920s to the early 1960s, US highway travelers encountered various series of small signs advertising the product.  I remember, as a child, attempting to guess what was coming next as our family car drove past a series of these signs.  Here are two examples (from Wikipedia):

   A shave / That's real / No cuts to heal / A soothing / Velvet after-feel / Burma Shave
   Past / Schoolhouses / Take it slow / Let the little / Shavers grow / Burma Shave  

Monday, November 20, 2017


     Sometimes a poem comes to me with a story -- and such is the case with the poem by Richard Harrison that I offer below.  As part of my Google-searching for online sites that contain both "poetry" and "mathematics," I found an article about a new book by Canadian poet Richard Harrison -- and the article included the statement, "Harrison also writes about super heroes, cosplay, spoken word poetry and mathematics."
     And so I hunted for an email address for Richard Harrison, then wrote asking to learn more of his math-poetry activity.  In his reply, he sent me the poem below -- his one-and-only mathy poem -- a poem he derived from material he wrote in response to a request by philosopher Robert Crease for candidates for "the greatest equation."   Harrison nominated "1 + 1 = 2" and provided an argument in defense of his nomination -- and part of Harrison's response is offered in the preface for Crease's book, The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg (W W Norton, 2009).

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Memorization and formulae

    A website I enjoy visiting is Ben Orlin's  At every mathy website I visit,  it is my habit to do a search for "poetry" (just as on a poetry site I search for "math"). At MathWithBadDrawings I found this poetry sample concerning whether it is important to memorize particular basics:

       Monday we memorize
       That way we know
       Tuesday through Friday
       We think and we Grow

And, accompanied by a drawing, here are the first two of five stanza for a poem about the quadratic formula:     

Monday, November 13, 2017

Logic and Poetry -- from Lewis Carroll

     Australian poet Erica Jolly has alerted me to Lapham's Quarterly -- a magazine, both print and digital, that offers the view that history is the root of all education.  In particular, Jolly directed me to Lapham's presentation of "Sense and Nonsense:  Babies cannot manage crocodiles" by Lewis Carroll.  One of the Lewis Carroll logic puzzles presented therein relates to poetry -- and so I offer it here:

   1. No interesting poems are unpopular among people of real taste;
   2. No modern poetry is free from affectation;
   3. All your poems are on the subject of soap bubbles;
   4. No affected poetry is popular among people of real taste;
   5. No ancient poem is on the subject of soap bubbles.
Answer:  All your poems are uninteresting.

     That the Answer/Conclusion follows using the rules of logic requires some calculations which the interested reader is invited to pursue.  A solution (and additional puzzles) may be found here.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Stop saying GIRLS can't do MATH

     Found at, this poem by Brenda Cárdenas that, like too many others portrays a girl in a can't do-math situation.  Another aspect of the poem, however, is its Spanish-language descriptions of Hispanic contributions to mathematics.  And, despite my protest, I find this a lovely poem and worth sharing.

     Calculations     by Brenda Cárdenas

     “I don’t know what to tell you.
     Your daughter doesn’t understand
     math. Numbers trouble her, leave
     her stuck on ground zero.”

                                    Y fueron los mayas
                                    quienes imaginaron el cero,
                                    un signo para nada, para todo,
                                    en sus gran calculaciones.

                     Is zero the velvet swoop into dream,
                     the loop into plumes of our breath?    

Monday, November 6, 2017

Mathematics -- vital imagery in SO MANY poems . . .

     Mathematics not only governs the structure of many poems -- of sonnets and pantoums and villanelles and more -- but mathematical imagery is an increasingly vital ingredient of the content.  Australian poet and STEAM advocate Erica Jolly has recently alerted me to the most recent issue (Volume 83) of the online journal Cordite Poetry Review  -- the theme of this issue: its opening essay, its 60 poems --  is mathematicsFollow this link to Cordite and explore.
     An important resource for anyone seeking poetry-with-mathematics is the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics -- an online journal in which each biannual issue contains a varied selection of poems.  Here is a link to the July 2017 issue for you to explore.
     The humanistic side of mathematics has been explored for many years by the online British journal plus -- available here.  Perhaps you'd like to read an article on "the mathematics of kindness" or survey their articles, videos and podcasts about math-women or read a math-poetry book review -- all this and so much more at plus.
AND, when your time permits, browse here in my blog -- 
with more than 900 postings, much variety is offered.  
Scroll down OR use the SEARCH box.  Explore!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Probability and astonishment

     A small poem by Lia Purpura in the January 29, 2015 issue of The New Yorker delights even as it highlights the errors that many of us make in supposing that coincidences -- such as meeting some home town friend in a distant vacation spot -- are rare rather than probable.  

       Probability     by Lia Purpura

       Most coincidences are not
       miraculous, but way more
       common than we think--
       it's the shiver
       of noticing being
       central in a sequence