Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Defending Poetry . . . .

With sadness I learned yesterday of the death of poet Meena Alexander (1951-2018) -- not only a fine poet but also one of my treasured teachers during my MFA studies at Hunter a bunch of years ago.  As I browsed the works of Alexander online I found here in World Literature Today her essay "What Use Is Poetry?" which includes reference to Shelley's "In Defence of Poetry." 

     Shelley's words led me to think of mathematics; perhaps you will, too:
          “It creates for us a being within our being. 
           It makes us inhabitants of a world to which 
           the familiar world is a chaos. It reproduces 
           the common universe of which we are portions and percipients, 
           and it purges from our inward sight the film of familiarity 
           which obscures from us the wonder of our being.”

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Heart's Arithmetic

     For me, the Christmas holiday season is a time for family gathering and a treasured time for that reason.  Today my thoughts turn to one of my favorite poems of family and mathematics -- a poem by much-too-soon-departed poet Wilmer Mills (1969-2011),  a poem first published in Poetry and also also found here at the Poetry Foundation website

     An Equation for My Children  by Wilbur Mills

     It may be esoteric and perverse
     That I consult Pythagoras to hear
     A music tuning in the universe.
     My interest in his math of star and sphere
     Has triggered theorems too far-fetched to solve.  

Friday, December 7, 2018

United by ice cream -- the sphere and cone

     During recent months I have been part of an online course that has helped me and a dozen others to learn steps for editing Wikipedia -- with the goal that we will be able to add biographies of "Women in Science and Mathematics" to that enormous online encyclopedia (in which, currently, less than 18% of the biographies feature women).    The course has led me to SEARCH Wikipedia using names of women I admire -- and it will be my intent to work toward addition of those missing.  One such woman -- a mathematics PhD, a talented teacher, a poet -- is Katharine O'Brien (1905-1986).  I introduce her below with one of her mathy poems (first published in The Mathematics Teacher in 1968).

     Einstein and the Ice Cream Cone       by Katharine O'Brien

     His first day at Princeton, the legend goes,
     he went for a stroll (in his rumpled clothes).
     He entered a coffee shop -- moment of doubt --
     then climbed on a stool and looked about.
     Beside him, a frosh, likewise strange and alone,
     consoling himself with an ice cream cone.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

By Claude Shannon -- a Poem for Rubik's Cube

     Below I present the opening lines of an 80-line (plus footnotes) poetic creation by Claude Shannon (1916-2001).  A mathematician, engineer and cryptographer, Shannon is often called "the father of information theory."  My own acquaintance with Shannon's work came through the topic of error-correction codes.  Shannon's poem on the Rubik Cube was first published here in a Scientific American blog posting by John Horgan.

     A Rubric on Rubik Cubics (1)     by Claude Shannon
   
     Strange imports come from Hungary:
     Count Dracula, and ZsaZsa G.,
     Now Erno Rubik's Magic Cube
     For PhD or country rube.
     This fiendish clever engineer
     Entrapped the music of the sphere.