Sunday, May 31, 2020

Which permutation of lines yields the best poem?

     A fascinating article about poet Jericho Brown (by Allison Glock in Garden and Gun magazine) reminded me of the vital role of line-arrangement in creating a poem.  (Emory University professor Brown has won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for his collection The Tradition  (Copper Canyon Press, 2019)).
      Glock's article, "Jericho Rising," tells of various factors that have influenced Brown's poetry and describes his process of arranging lines, typed on separate strips of paper, into poems.  Three of the lines shown in the article are:

       What is the history of the wound? 
  We'll never see their faces or know their names.      
       And a grief so thick you could touch it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020


     A mathy poem that I have learned about from Carol Dorf (poet and retired math teacher and poetry editor at is "The Story of Mathematics" by poet and teacher Sarah Dickenson Snyder.  Offered below, "The Story of Mathematics" first appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of 300 Days of Sun -- it is a poem for which I have needed (and enjoyed) the challenge of several re-readings, both silent and aloud, to take it in.

     The Story of Mathematics    by Sarah Dickenson Snyder

     ​It starts with a shell –
     its curve and shine,

     the way a line peaks.
     It starts with a star

     and the arc
     between bone and light.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Counting . . . and more counting . . .

     Poet and retired math teacher and poetry editor ( Carol Dorf has been staying connected during the covid-19 pandemic by sharing poems.  Many of her emailed shares are works I know, but the item below came as new -- a mathy poem by David Ignatow (1914-1997) from his collection Against the Evidence: Selected Poems 1934-1994. (Wesleyan University Press, 1993).  Consider, with Ignatow, what is finite?  what is countable?

Information     by David Ignatow  

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Links to mathy poems . . .

     The Annual Bridges Math-Arts Conference will not be meeting this year but mathematician Sarah Glaz has arranged for lots of math-poetic activity online -- go here and scroll down for links to poetry-presentations that she has arranged.  
     Glaz has gathered a Bridges 2020 Poetry Anthology (not yet published) that contains five of my mathy poems.  I read aloud two of them -- 

"Love Mathematics" and "A Baker's Dozen" -- here on YouTube 

Thanks to my neighbor, Mark Willey, for help with the YouTube recording!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Doubling and redoubling . ..

     The mathematics of repeated doubling and concerns about COVID-19 have led Virginia dentist and poet Eric Forsbergh to write "A Fable" (offered below): 

     Fable     by Eric Forsbergh

     A child seeks the raja out.

     A grain of rice is held out on the child’s fingertip.
     The child seeks to live, someday to reproduce.

     “I ask this. One grain doubled,
     doubled again, on a chessboard every square.”
     The raja’s not alarmed.
     He sends a soldier out to get a loaded scoop.
     “Maybe a small pail.” he calls out as an afterthought.

Friday, May 15, 2020

A rhyme about a prime

     Tomorrow, May 16, is the birthday of Pafnuty Chebyshev (1821-1894), who was one of the founders of Russian mathematics and the first to prove (in 1850) a conjecture (about positive integers) made in 1845 by French mathematician Joseph Bertrand (1822-1900) and sometimes referred to as Bertrand's postulate.  This rhyming couplet celebrates that conjecture:

               Chebyshev said, and I'll say it again:
               There's always a prime between n and 2n.

Thanks to Evelyn Lamb's AMS Page-A-Day Calendar for its May 10 alert to the info above.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

What would I do without NUMBERS?

     Sometimes familiar things that are very important are taken for granted.  Many of us do that with numbers . . . California poet and artist Mary Fabilli (1914-2011) considered their importance in the following thoughtful poem:

     Numbers     by Mary Fabilli

     What would I do
     without numbers?
     A 7 there and a 3 here,
     days in a month
     months in a year
     AD and BC
     and all such symbols

     the track of time

Monday, May 11, 2020

Geometry of a Shadow

     This morning while exercising I listened to an old CD that had been stored with materials I used when involved with the The Children's Museum (in Bloomsburg, PA).  The recording included selections from A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) and as I listened to "My Shadow" I connected it with my blog -- a poem of geometry and mappings.  Here it is; enjoy!

     My Shadow    by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894)
     I HAVE a little shadow that goes in and out with me,   
     And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.   
     He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;   
     And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed. 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Squaring the circle . . . or not . . .

     Start with a CIRCLE -- is it possible, using only a straightedge and compass, to construct a SQUARE with the same area as the starting circle?  This problem, posed by ancient geometers, was long believed to be impossible, but not proven so until 1882 when Ferdinand von Lindemann proved that π is transcendental.
     Freelance editor and math-geek Sam Hartburn offers at her website a fun-to-read poem on this topic.  The first stanza is offered below, followed by a link to the full poem text -- and a recording. 

 (not) Squaring the Circle     by Sam Hartburn

          So I had this circle, but I wanted a square
          Don’t ask why, that’s my affair
          The crucial aspect of this little game
          Is that the area should stay the same
          Ruler and compass are the tools to use
          It’s been proven impossible, but that’s no excuse
          Many have tried it, but hey, I’m me
          I’m bound to find something that they couldn’t see

          So, here we go

                . . .
Hartburn's complete poem (and recording) may be found here.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Remembering Eavan Boland, Grace Hopper

     Irish poet Eavan Boland (1944-2020) died last week and news of her death has caused me to look back and remember.  In this year in which the US celebrates 100 years of women's suffrage, I am reminded of this poem in the Irish Times in which Boland celebrated 100 years of Irish women's suffrage, a poem entitled "Our future will become the past of other women."  Here is a brief excerpt from that poem:
                         A hundred years ago a woman’s vote
                         Becoming law became the right
                         Of Irish women. We remember them
                         As we celebrate this freedom.

One of my favorite of Boland's poems is her tribute to another master of language, Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1988) -- Hopper was a computer pioneer and a navy rear admiral.  Here is the opening stanza of Boland's poem: