Monday, April 30, 2018

Embrace both art and mathematics

      A recent news article in The Hofstra Chronicle opens with a statement attributed to John Adams that begins something like this:

          I must study Politiks and War that my sons
               may have liberty to study  ...

And then, questions begin -- 
          is it painting and poetry 
                 or mathematics and philosophy      that should follow.

But why must a divide be proposed?

Whether mathematics or painting or philosophy or poetry, let us connect the best thoughts of each -- let our STEM be STEAM.  In this vein, consider the opening stanza of  "To Divine Proportion,"a sonnet by Rafael Alberti (translated from the Spanish by Carolyn Tipton):    

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Poem for My Pocket

April 26 is "Poem in Your Pocket Day" for 2018
This poem is in my pocket!

The Great Figure      by William Carlos Williams  (1883-1963)

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.

This link leads to several of my previous "Poem in Your Pocket" choices.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Move beyond dislike to the genuine . . .

April celebrates National Poetry Month and
     One of the sad similarities between mathematics and poetry is that both are subjects many people dislike -- with reasons such as "I'm lousy at  ___" or "I don't get it" or "It's stupid -- who needs it?"  Lots of us are trying to change that.

     The title for this posting is the opening line of "Poetry"  by Marianne Moore (1887-1972) -- and the poem goes on like this:

I, too, dislike it.
     Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in 
     it, after all, a place for the genuine.

In my copy of The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore (Penguin Books, 1981), there is a short version of this poem, "Poetry," that contains only the lines above and, here at we find a longer version that goes on for twenty-three more lines.

 Allow yourself to look for the special, to find it.  
 Celebrate the genuine       in poetry       and       in mathematics.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Poetry sometimes OPPOSES mathematics!

     One of the finest historians of mathematics is Judith V. Grabiner, professor emerita of Pitzer College;  here is a link to one of her thoughtful and widely informative articles, "The Centrality of Mathematics in the History of Western Thought," (originally published in Mathematics Magazine, 1988).
     Toward the end of this article is a section with the header "Opposition."  It opens with this statement:
          The best proof of the centrality of mathematics is that 
               every example of its influence given so far 
               has provoked strong and significant opposition.
Grabiner includes the voices of poets among the resisters.  She mentions Walt Whitman becoming "tired and sick" and leaving to look at the stars in "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" and quotes stanza from William Wordsworth's "The Tables Turned."   Wordsworth's condemnation of learning as an opponent to nature ends with these stanzas:  

Monday, April 16, 2018

Mathy three-liners -- thoughts for today

When two negatives meet,
is the pair more
or less negative?

          For almost any question,
          almost every number
          is the wrong answer.

                    The irrational numbers
                    are more numerous than
                    the rational ones.

          Steal the same amount
          from both sides of the equation
          if you wish not to be found out.

Which is better --
a large number
or a rational one?

Nothing is.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Interview with mathy poets . . .

     Philadelphia mathematician and poet Marion Cohen has worked with Sundress Publications to prepare an interview offering MATH-POETRY viewpoints from three other mathematician-poets and herself -- including me and Sarah Glaz, recently retired in the mathematics department at the University of Connecticut, and Gizem Karaali, in the mathematics department at Pomona College.  All of these math-women have numerous books, articles, and so on -- and I invite you to follow the links associated with their names and also to go here to read the Sundress interview (which does, at the end, include several poems).

     Each of these math-poetry women has been featured often in this blog -- and, in addition to reading the interview, I urge you to click on their names to explore these links:       Marion Cohen        Sarah Glaz        Gizem Karaali

I close with a link to an article of mine, "Mathematics in Poetry, " published by the MAA a bit more than ten years ago -- an easy read that has generated some recent attention.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Celebrate Martin Gardner

     Martin Gardner (1914-2010) was a friend to mathematics and made many aspects of the subject available to a wide audience for twenty-five years in a Scientific American column , "Mathematical Games" -- material later collected in a variety of books.  I have featured Gardner's connections to math-poetry in several previous blog postings -- and today I want to mention an event  happening this weekend (April 11-15, in Decatur, Georgia), the 13th Annual Gathering for Gardner.   Lots of math-fun is on the agenda -- and a bit of poetry.  
     On Sunday, April 15, Professor Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University will lecture on “Poetry, Drumming, and Mathematics.” Bhargava won the Fields Medal, which is one of the highest honors for a mathematician.  More information about the annual gatherings for Gardner is available here.  
     In closing,  noting the coming of spring with its April celebration of both mathematics and poetry, here are a few lines of verse -- the opening stanza from an old poem of mine entitled "Time."

          The clock goes round --
          making time a circle
          rather than a line.
          Each year's return to spring
          layers time on time.
A second part of "Time" is available here.
Both are collected in Red Has No Reason (Plain View Press, 2010).

Monday, April 9, 2018

March for Our Lives -- Numbers and complexities!

     One of the very moving recent events in my life was the "March for Our Lives" in Washington a couple of weeks ago.  Passionate AND thoughtful speeches by young people that will, I hope, lead to moral and legislative action.  One of the stars whose performance complemented those of the young speakers is Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the current and popular musical "Hamilton"; seeing Miranda at the March reminded me of a poem of protest sent to me by Australian poet Erica Jolly a few months ago.    Jolly's poem draws from an essay by Matthew Peppe in the Special Issue of Lapham's Quarterly about Alexander Hamilton and contrasts the character of the theatrical Hamilton with the behavior of the character who inspired him.  (This link to the blog "John's Space" offers additional background information.)  Thank you, Erica, for this moving use of numbers!

Daddy Yankee:     
       The Irony of ‘Hamilton’
       Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 
       Advocacy for Puerto Rico
by Erica Jolly (December 2017)
             An essay by Matthew Peppe found in the Special Issue
             about Alexander Hamilton in Lapham’s Quarterly.

I draw in my breath in disbelief.
How does one take in all those numbers?
How is it possible for an island of this size
to have a debt of seventy six billion dollars?  

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Bits of Geometry -- from a "Phenomenal Woman"

     Today's Google Doodle beautifully reminds us that this day is the 90th anniversary of the birth of Dr Maya Angelou (1928-2014) -- and in the Doodle Angelou is celebrated with a recording of her poem, "Still I Rise."  A recording of "Still I Rise" also is available from a push-button within a recently erected bronze statue of Angelou, "Maya's Mind" by Mischell Riley -- on 17th Street in Washington, DC, through December 2018 and part of an exhibit sponsored by the Renwick Gallery.

"Maya's Mind" by Mischell Riley

The text of "Still I Rise" is available here at  As I noted in an earlier post, "Phenomenal Woman,"  Angelou's poetry is full of the generous geometry of womanhood -- here are a few lines from that poem:

        It's in the reach of my arms,
        The span of my hips,
        The stride of my step,
        The curl of my lips.
        I'm a woman

From Angelou's Phenomenal Woman:  Four Poems Celebrating Women (Random House, 1994).

Monday, April 2, 2018

Split This Rock Poetry Festival, April 19-21, 2018

For poems and poets that speak out FOR rights, AGAINST injustice, 
attend the biennial SPLIT THIS ROCK Poetry Festival!
Festival information is available here.  
Split This Rock maintains a hugs poetry database, available here.

One of this year's Festival's featured poets is Sharon Olds who was, a few years ago, my poetry teacher.  This link leads to an introduction to Olds and to a stanza from one of her poems that celebrates math-girls.   
. . .
indivisible as
a prime number
. . .