Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Square poems -- pricked by a cactus!

     Back home now in Maryland after some time in Arizona (near Tucson) with cousins, my mind is full of the beauty and diversity of the cactuses that I saw there -- in yards and gardens and, most spectacularly, at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (BIG Thanks, Bob and Ann!)  My interest in these prickly plants led me to seek a poem that featured them.  What I found is a small "square poem" in my article "Mathematics in Poetry" -- published several years ago by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) and available here.  Below, I quote that tiny square poem -- preceded by an explanatory introduction.

Mathematicians enjoy pushing against constraints to find what is possible despite their presence; I enjoy a similar struggle in poetry. For example, when I wanted to write about my decision to be polite even though somewhere inside I feel very uncivil, the constraints of a 3 × 3 square poem led me to:

Mock feelings
serve as well
as true ones.  

Or, broken-hearted and remembering my mother's advice that the pain in my left eye from a grain of sand will seem to decrease if I rub my right eye really hard until it hurts, the shape restriction of a 4 × 4 square led to:

When lovers leave,
avoid laments.
Grab a cactus--
new pain forgets.

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