Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Opposites -- in Life as in Mathematics

       Recently on NPR I heard an engaging interview with poet Kevin Young about his new collection Stones -- about memory and loss, and connection to the past -- and my interest led me to search online for more of his work.   At the Poetry Foundation website I found twenty of Young's poems, including this one which considers -- as mathematics also does -- pairs of opposites.

     Negative        by Kevin Young

       Wake to find everything black
       what was white, all the vice
       versa—white maids on TV, black

       sitcoms that star white dwarfs
       cute as pearl buttons. Black Presidents,
       Black Houses. White horse

       candidates. All bleach burns
       clothes black. Drive roads
       white as you are, white songs 

Monday, September 27, 2021

Geometry of a Neighborhood

     As we walk around, our views of our surroundings change;  lines that look parallel from one view appear to be converging from another . . . and so on.  The following poem by Massachusetts poet Martha Collins reflects on such view-changes:

House, Tree, Sky     by Martha Collins

If, when the pond is still
and nothing is moved
and the light is right.
you consider the angles
and make the proper approach,
you come to a bend
where a small white house
against a deep sky meets
the same white house against
the blue water:
stair rests on stair,
door opens on door,
tree grows out of tree.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

It all starts with counting . . .

     Sometimes our focus on what is important -- in life, in love  . . . as in mathematics --  starts with counting.   This process is artfully expressed below in "Tally" by Romanian poet Lucian Blaga (1922-1985).

      Tally     by Lucien Blaga

       I tally in the ancient way.
       I count like the shepherd
       how many white. how many black
       --days, all year round.

       I count the steps, of the beautiful one,
       to the threshold of the door.
       I count how many startsthere are
       in the nest of the Mother Hen.

       However many, the lot--I count,
       smoke and illusions,
       the whole day--count, count
       roads and missed ways.

       I count the stones on which
       she crosses the ford, that beauty
       and all the sins for which
       hell will surely burn me.

Blaga's poem was translated from the Romanian by Brenda Walker and Stelian Apostolescu and is included in the anthology, Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics (AKPeters/CRC Press, 2008), edited by Sarah Glaz and JoAnne Growney.

Monday, September 20, 2021

More of Yeats and Geometry

      A blog-posting I made last week spoke of the use by poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) of geometry in his poetry.  Here is another vivid example:

The Second Coming    by William Butler Yeats

     Turning and turning in the widening gyre
     The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
     Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
     Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
     The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
     The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
     The best lack all conviction, while the worst
     Are full of passionate intensity.

     Surely some revelation is at hand;
     Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
     The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
     When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
     Troubles my sight; somewhere in sands of the desert
     A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
     A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
     Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
     Reel shadows of indignant desert birds.
     The darkness drops again; but now I know
     That twenty centuries of stony sleep
     Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
     And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
     Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?     

 Read more about Yeats and his work here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Intersecting lines of math, the arts, and justice

       A multimedia interdisciplinary project linking mathematics, the arts, and language -- and entitled  Rhythm of Structure -- was begun in 2003 by versatile mathematical artist and writer, John Sims.  I first learned of the project in 2010 when I was one of a group of writers invited to a weekend event at the Bowery Poetry Club at which Sims was then resident poet.  A catalog of the art and poetry gathered by Sims during that year is entitled Rhythm of Structure:  Mathematics, Art and Poetic Reflection, Bowery and Beyond and is available at this link.  

      Before moving on to a poem I am compelled to mention a recent instance of racial injustice; from May, 2021 this headline:

Political artist John Sims detained, handcuffed by S.C. police in his gallery apartment

found at this Yahoo site.  Sims, a black man and artist-in-residence at the Center for Contemporary art in Columbia, South Carolina, was arrested as an "intruder" as he entered his own apartment and gallery.  PLEASE, let us work together to end racially biased behavior! 

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Monday, September 13, 2021

Yeats and Geometry

      Spelman College Professor Emeritus Colm Mulcahy is a mathematician and scholar whose talents and interests reach far and wide.  An email from him alerted me to a website exploring the work of his fellow Irishman, poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939).  In particular Mulcahy alerted me to links between Yeats' poetry and Geometry.

     And these new connections to Yeats led me to think back to college days, to my reading of Yeats in a course in "Modern Poetry"  -- and to remember the way that my thoughts were swept into the air by "The Wild Swans at Coole."  I offer below its opening stanzas, followed by a link to the rest of the poem.

     The Wild Swans at Coole      by William Butler Yeats

      The trees are in their autumn beauty,
      The woodland paths are dry,
      Under the October twilight the water
      Mirrors a still sky;
      Upon the brimming water among the stones
      Are nine-and-fifty swans.

      The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
      Since I first made my count;
      I saw, before I had well finished,
      All suddenly mount
      And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
      Upon their clamorous wings.

       . . .                            Yeats' complete poem is available here at

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Seeing Mathematics Everywhere

     Ohio poet Cathryn Essinger has a twin brother who is a mathematician -- and links to mathematics sometimes appear in her poetry.   Here are the opening lines of a poem I especially enjoy -- the complete poem appeared in Poetry Magazine in 2002 and is available online here.

My Dog Practices Geometry     by Cathryn Essinger

     I do not understand the poets who tell me
     that I should not personify. Every morning
     the willow auditions for a new role

     outside my bedroom window—today she is
     Clytemnestra; yesterday a Southern Belle,
     lost in her own melodrama, sinking on her skirts.

     Nor do I like the mathematicians who tell me
     I cannot say, "The zinnias are counting on their
     fingers," or "The dog is practicing her geometry,"

     even though every day I watch her using
     the yard's big maple as the apex of a triangle
     from which she bisects the circumference   

          . . .                                                                                           To continue reading, follow this link.

Monday, September 6, 2021

The math of everyday life . . .

     Back in the 90's when I participated in several poetry workshops at Pennsylvania's Bucknell University, one of my fellow-students was Declan Synott and here -- found on Facebook -- is one of his poems, a mathy poem.

   Plowing     by Declan Synott

        In Brush Valley, near Rebersburg,
        a four-mule team pulls the furrow,
        and a 15 year old Amish boy stands atop the plow.
        He is part of the leather harness,
        leads to each animal.
        It’s a controlled chore. Methodical and mathematical.
        If you were to do the math, you’d know
        that it will take 38 passes,
        east to west, west to east to till this pasture.
        The job requires all of the morning
        and a good part of the afternoon.
        He swings at a horsefly’s bite, aligns his shoulders
        and keeps the animals moving.
        The soil breaks fresh, a dark rich brown,
        a dust plume in his wake.