Wednesday, November 27, 2019

I am THANKFUL for . . . mathematics, poetry . . .

Today as I am preparing for Thanksgiving -- with its guests and travel and remembering -- my thoughts have turned back to Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), one of the first American poets whose work I came to know and love.  Here are several lines from Sandburg's "Arithmetic":

from    Arithmetic     by Carl Sandburg

Arithmetic is where numbers fly like pigeons in and out of your head.
Arithmetic tells you how many you lose or win if you know how 
     many you had before you lost or won. . . .
Arithmetic is numbers you squeeze from your head to your hand
     to your pencil to your paper till you get the answer. . . .
If you ask your mother for one fried egg for breakfast and she
     gives you two fried eggs and you eat both of them, who is
     better in arithmetic, you or your mother?
Happy Thanksgiving!

Sandburg's complete poem is available here.  And this link leads to previous postings in this blog of work by Sandburg that has math connections.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Poet of Number -- syllables counted by primes

     Margaret Zheng is a first-year student at Haverford College -- with interests that include mathematics (see page 2 at this link) and music and philosophy and poetry . . .  Margaret was a finalist in her county's poetry contest last year and she has sent me the following poem -- with syllable-counts that are primes:  

the mathematician     by Margaret Zheng

(2)     mappings,
(3)     permutings,
(5)     patterns free-mingling
(7)     on the page of the poet
(11)    of Number.  'tis the heartbeat of Heaven she
(13)    craves to feel -- resonances -- to hear -- harmonies -- to
(17)    see -- beauties lost like children in the city swamp of lights 
               and shuffling
(19)    feet kicking the pavement never gazing upwards 
               in fear their genius would burst
(23)    free of the benumbing thuds of concrete and whisk them away
                to-wards infinities primal . . .
Thanks, Margaret, for sharing your musical words!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Multiplication is vexation ... the rule of three, etc.

     There are lots of childhood rhymes that celebrate the use of numbers -- here is a sample (found at this website)  -- the "Rule of Three" also is the subject of an interesting article by Ben Johnson, "Using the Rule of Three for Learning." 

          Multiplication is Vexation   

          Multiplication is vexation;
          Division is as bad;
          Rule of Three doth puzzle me,
          And Practice drives me mad.

     My recent browsing on the topic of math-phobia started when I came across this article focused on "tackle the fear head on" in the Washington Post.  I am grateful that many are working to help others overcome anxieties related to math.
Results of a search of this blog using the term "anxiety" may be found here.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Connecting mathematics to a larger world . . .

     I begin with words from a former student -- a postal worker who had retired early and went back to school to become a primary-school teacher:

                    I will teach
                    by punctuality
                    and perfect attendance.

     In 1959, a Rede Lecture by C. P. Snow (1905-1980)  famously identified two separate cultures  -- the scientists and the humanists -- and these days what is often termed the STEM to STEAM movement is attempting to humanize the sciences by emphasizing the necessity of the arts in scientific study.  

Monday, November 11, 2019

Mathematics -- something useful ... or beautiful ...

     I offer a sample below from a poem by Jane Hirshfield entitled "Mathematics" and invite you to go here to read the entire poem -- and to reflect on it.  What does the poem say that is true about mathematics?

from Mathematics     by Jane Hirshfield

          I've envied those 
          who make something 
          useful, sturdy— or
          a chair, a pair of boots.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Try it -- you'll like it -- write an ACROSTIC poem!

     When solving problems in mathematics, the constraints that are imposed on the solution often are helpful in solving it. As a simple example, if we are given the lengths of  the two shorter sides in a scalene triangle, the problem becomes easily solvable if we know that the triangle is a right triangle.
     Poets also often find constrains helpful in shaping their words into special meaning.  For example, the rhythm and rhyme scheme of the poetry-pattern called a sonnet have led to many notable poems.  In this blog, in earlier postings, we have celebrated the FIB -- a six line poem whose syllable-counts obey the Fibonacci numbers. A popular form of poetry for calling attention to a particular idea is an ACROSTIC poem -- a poem in which the first (or other) letters of each line spell out a word or phrase.  Here is my sample:  MATH POEMS HELP US SEE.   

     M     My
     T      teacher

Monday, November 4, 2019

Weaving mathematics into poetry . . .

     José Alan Esparza Lozano is from the border region of Ciudad Juárez, México and El Paso, Texas -- and traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he graduated in 2019 from MIT with a BS in mathematics. Currently he is an award-winning graduate student in Santiago, Chile -- and he has a book of math-linked poems which I have much enjoyed reading (and from which I offer one of my favorites below).
    Lozano's poetry collection is called Chrysalis and Self -- and print copies are available at -- moreover, if you are interested, you may contact the poet about the possibility of obtaining an electronic copy. Here, from page 36, is "Manywhere" -- and the poem is followed by a note from the end-of-book note that offers explanation of the mathematics contained therein: