Monday, June 28, 2021

Math Communication with Poetry -- Strogatz Prize

Recently I have learned -- through Mo-Math (National Museum of Mathematics) -- of the of the Steven H. Strogatz Prize -- recognizing high school students for outstanding math communication projects.  Winners for the 2021 Contest were announced yesterday -- and information about upcoming contests is available here.

     This year's Strogatz winner in the Writing category was a poem by Julia Schanen, entitled "Math Person."  Below I offer Schanen's opening lines -- and the sample is followed by a link to the full text of her poem -- of mathematics and of the painful isolation that a 10th grade math girl often feels. 

Friday, June 25, 2021

One More Love Poem

     Expressing love with mathematical terminology is beautifully done in "One More Love Poem" by  Dunya Mikhail  -- this poem was offered by in their poem-a-day feature on April 2, 2021 and it deserves to be widely shared.

One More Love Poem     by Dunya Mikhail

       If I had one more day
       I would write a love poem
       composed of one word
       repeated like binary code.

       I’ll multiply it by the number
       of days that passed
       without saying it to you
       and I’ll add the days   

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Interpreting Khayyam -- in Rhyme

     Eleventh century Persian scholar Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) is described by Wikipedia as a polymath -- he was a mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and poet (and the foregoing Wikipedia link summarizes his accomplishments).  My former colleague, Reza Noubary, a math-stat professor at the Bloomsburg (PA) University, shares Khayyam's Persian heritage and also has a wide variety of achievements; one of his recent adventures has been with poetry.  In 2020 his poetry collection, Feelings and Dealings, appeared -- and this year has brought forth his collection Khayyam in Rhyme (Fulton Books, 2021).

     Khayyam in Noubary's volume is revealed as a mathematician through his thought-patterns more than through his words.  Here is an intriguing sample from Chapter 1 (available for online browsing here); this sample shows first, the original Farsi, followed by two "translations"of the four that are offered): 

Monday, June 21, 2021

Putting CALCULUS into a poem . . .

 Can our world be described using calculus?

     The poem-a-day offering this morning (6/21/21) from gives me new ideas about describing a problem-situation using some terms from mathematics.  I offer part of the poem below, followed by a link to the complete work.

from  Disintegrating Calculus Problem     by McKenzie Toma

A dramatic clue lodged in a rockface. Set in a shimmering sound belt slung around the grasses. Collections of numbers signify a large sum, a fatness that cannot be touched. Numbers are heart weight in script. Calculus means a small pebble pushed around maniacally. Binding affection, instead of fear, to largeness.  

Ideas are peeled into fours and pinned on the warm corners of earth to flap in a wind. Wind, the product of a swinging axe that splits the sums. This math flowers on the tender back of the knee.     . . . .

     McKenzie Toma's complete poem appears here (with other poem-a-day offerings at and and here (along with several others of her poems).

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Images of a Complex World

     One of the treasures on my bookshelf is Images of a Complex World: The Art and Poetry of Chaos by University of Wisconsin poet Robin Chapman and physicist Julien Clinton Sprott (World Scientific, 2005).  The following image by Sprott accompanies a poem entitled "The Traveling Salesman's Problem is NP-Difficult." Beneath the art, I offer the poem's opening lines -- and the complete poem and other art-poetry samples from the collection are available at this link.   

an image of chaos by Julien Clinton Sprott
from:  The Traveling Salesman's Problem is NP-Difficult   by Robin Chapman 
     We were all for optimization of student opportunities

Monday, June 14, 2021

Encryption and Love

One of my recent book-acquisitions is The Woman who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone  -- a story of Elizebeth Smith Friedman who transitioned from teaching and scholarship to codebreaking and became a hero of the National Security Agency during the much of the first half of the twentieth century.   In this book I have found (on page 91, discussion of some of the ideas of information-theory pioneer Claude Shannon; the story of Elizebeth includes telling of her meeting and falling in love with another codebreaker, William Friedman, and Fagone brings Shannon into the story with this remark:

     . . . according to Shannon, making yourself understood by another person
        is essentially a problem in cryptology ... When you fall in love, you develop
        a compact encoding to share mental states more efficiently, cut noise,
        and bring your beloved closer.   All lovers, in this light, are codebreakers . . .

Also connecting love and mathematics is a poetry anthology from more than a dozen years ago -- a collection that I helped Sarah Glaz to gather and edit (and now available as an e-book):  Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics (A K Peters/CRC Press, 2008).  On page 135, these cryptic lines from Rafael Alberti, used as an epigraph for the poem "Mathematics" by Hanns Cibulka.

                And the angel of numbers
                is flying
                from 1 to 2.

                                   --Rafael Alberti

Cibulka's "Mathematics" may be found here.  And this link leads to other postings in this blog that relate to Strange Attractors

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Every Seventeen Years . . .

Millions of Brood X 17-year cicadas have recently emerged in the Washington, DC area and they are the subjects of laughter, fear, recipes, and so on.  (Wikipedia information about these cicadas is available here.)  Washington Post writer John Kelly has asked readers to celebrate the cicadas with verse -- and below I offer one of the Haiku that Kelly gathered recently.

Found here in The Washington Post

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

A Life Made to Count

     The title of this blog-post is part of a headline from The Washington Post -- a headline for a review by GW Professor Lisa Page  of a posthumously published and recently released memoir by Katherine Johnson (1918 - 2020) :  My Remarkable Journey:  A Memoir, written with assistance from Joylette Hylick, Katherine Moore and Lisa Frazier Page (Amistad, 2021).

     As you might expect, numbers are at the center of Johnson's memoir -- numbers never intimidated Johnson — in fact, they thrilled her. The symmetry, the structural interplay of equations and formulas, were always in her head.  (Read a bit of the book here.)

     As Johnson looked back over her life of more than one hundred years, I too was prompted to looks back -- to an article of mine entitled "MATHEMATICS AND POETRY:  ISOLATED OR INTEGRATED?" and published in the Humanistic Mathematics Network Newsletter (forerunner of the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics) in May, 1991 -- and available here.  And I can't resist quoting a bit from the article, sharing some phrases from the poem "Poetry" by Marianne Moore (1887-1972).

       . . . things are important not because a
       high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them
       but because they are useful . . . the same thing
       may be said for all of us—that we do not admire
       what we cannot understand. 

       [Not until we] can present for inspection,
       imaginary gardens with real toads in them
       shall we have it . . .

Moore's complete poem is available here.

Friday, June 4, 2021

A Few Lines of Parody

      Recently I re-found -- in my copy of The Mathematical Magpie by Clifton Fadiman (1904-1999)  (Simon and Schuster, 1962) -- these lines by Lewis Untermeyer (1885-1977):


    We drew our circle that shut him out,
    This man of Science who dared our doubt.
    But ah, with a fourth-dimensional grin
    He squared a circle that took us in.

Untermeyer's lines first appeared in his Collected Parodies.    Here is a link to a second edition (1997) of The Mathematical Magpie (for which the title page description includes:  stories, subsets of essays, rhymes, anecdotes, epigrams . . . rational or irrational . . .)

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Euclid and Barbie -- and attitudes toward math . . .

     Teacher-poet-musician Glen Brown has shared with me his mathy poem that has for its epigraph a controversial line once spoken (back in 1992) by Mattel's Teen Talk Barbie.   Brown makes playful use of a variety of math terms but with an somewhat sexist point of view.

     Euclid and Barbie      by Glen Brown
                                Math class is tough.

     Sure it doesn’t add up:
     countless camping and skiing trips with Ken,
     swimming and skating parties without danger,
     dancing and shopping engagements
     with Midge and Skipper
     like an infinite summer vacation.
     Nothing here hints at a dull math class
     for integral Barbie and her complex playmates!