Thursday, September 29, 2022

Is a poem like a theorem?

     Recently I have been musing over the question, "Is a poem like a theorem?"  Enriching my thinking has been a poem by Canadian-American poet Mark Strand (1934-2014), "The New Poetry Handbook."   I enjoyed the thought-stimulation that Strand's poem gave me and, as I read and reread, I explored changing the gender AND replacing "poem" by "theorem.  Not always perfectly sensible BUT thought-provoking!

Strand's complete poem of 21 stanzas is available at this link.   

Monday, September 26, 2022

Some students regret their major

      An article by Andrew Van Dam in the Washington POST earlier this month (available at this link) asserts that nearly 2 in 5 American college graduates regret their choice of major . . .  many humanities majors wish they had focused more on STEM subjects while engineering majors were the group most fully satisfied.  The article has made me think back to my own college days when it was the availability of scholarships rather than love of the sciences that led me there.

From Washington POST "Department of Data" (at this link)
     My own view is that education in several fields is far more enriching than focus in a single field -- that the humanities or social science major who wishes she had studied calculus and non-Euclidean geometry and then goes on to do that brings better preparation to her later field of study.  She has knowledge and perspectives to enrich her study of mathematics!

     Consideration of study preferences has led my thoughts to an interesting pair of poems by Duke University Professor Henry Petroski -- poems found in the 1979 anthology of mathematical poetry, Against Infinity (Primary Press, 1979, Edited by Ernest Robson & Jet Wimp).  

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Math-Poetry Recordings on YouTube

     The arrival in 2020 of COVID caused a huge number of gatherings to take place online -- including mathematics conferences and poetry readings- -- and performances at many of these special events have been recorded on YouTube.  I offer below a few links to recordings and to further information.  Recording myself reading poems would probably not been one of my chosen activities but mathematician-poet Sarah Glaz, who has been an enthusiastic organizer of poetry events for the BRIDGES Math-Arts Conferences, has requested recorded samples from each participating poet.

     One way to start YouTube math-poetry explorations is to go to this link -- a link I found by searching for "poetry math" on YouTube.  In this blog, we have mentioned YouTube a bit in the past -- and the blog's SEARCH feature finds this list of previous postings that feature YouTube links.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Arts-based Math Education -- Meet one of the Stars

     Through BRIDGES Math-Arts Conferences I have become acquainted with the versatile Canadian scholar, Susan Gerofsky -- and I introduce you to her varied achievements with this biographical sketch.

Susan Gerofsky is an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education and Environmental Education at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Her interdisciplinary research in curriculum studies is in embodied mathematics education through the arts, movement, gesture and voice, and she is a regular contributor to Bridges Math and Art. She is active as a poet, playwright, musician and filmmaker, and works with dance and fibre arts. You'll often find her cycling around town with a baritone horn or an accordion.

Gerofsky has introduced me to the use of combinatorial patterns in bell-ringing in the structure of poems.  Here, for example, is her "Desert Poem" -- based on the pattern "Plain Hunt on Four" or PH4.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Math Poetry Contest for Massachusetts Students

      Middle school, high school and college students in Massachusetts are invited to submit MATH POETRY in a contest sponsored by the American Mathematical Society.  The submission deadline is November 11 -- and lots of background information and  details for submission are offered at this link.

  A pattern of yearly contests has been interrupted by COVID -- however, looking back, I find two of the winning poems in the 2020 contest posted here, and a poster of winners for the 2019 contest is shown at this link.

Monday, September 12, 2022

The Poetry of Mathematician George Boole

      One of the interesting poetry collections on my shelves is The Poetry of George Boole by Desmond MacHale (Logic Press, Ireland, 2020 -- and published in the USA for Logic Press by  This is not simply a poetry collection -- but poetry with commentary.  MacHale includes more than seventy surviving poems by the Irish mathematician Boole (1815-1864) -- and he also discusses Boole's views of the connections between Science and the Arts with an initial chapter is entitled "Poetry and Mathematics."  

     It is quite appropriate that Boole should relate poetry to mathematics since he was, primarily, a mathematician; his Boolean algebra is basic to the design of digital computer circuits)   Boole's own poetry, however, found most of its inspiration outside of math.  Here is his Sonnet 20 (Sonnet to the Number Three); written in May 1846 and suggesting that belief in the religious Trinity is connected with our interpretation of space in three dimensions.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Enriching Poetry with Mathematical Ideas

     An important leader in the community of writers who link mathematics and poetry is Sarah Glaz -- a scholar who is not only a mathematician and poet but also an organizer, participant, publicist, and recorder for numerous math-poetry events.  Glaz is an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Connecticut and her UConn webpage is a vast source of mathematical and poetry treasures.

     I first came to know Sarah well as we worked together on an important project -- gathering poems for the anthology Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics (A K Peters / CRC Press, 2008).  A preview of this collection is available here.   Here, from that collection, is one of my favorites -- a thoughtful poem about parenting and attitudes (love? or not?) toward mathematics:

Love Story     by Sarah Glaz

       If I ever write about you--
       he said--
       it will be a love story
       a story about
       how much you want to be loved.

       Father, do you love
       your little girl?
       I brought you
       a soup full
       of numbers
       formulas chopped to perfection
       integrals fried to a crisp 

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

From a poetic artist -- "New Math"

     Neha Misra, one of my neighbors (in Eastern Village cohousing in Silver Spring, Maryland) is both a poet and a visual artist; in a recent conversation, I asked Neha if she had any mathy poems -- and she  volunteered the following lines-- full of rich mathematical terminology paired with multiple -- and thoughtful --  meanings.  Thank you, Neha!

New Math        by Neha Misra
Because I once scored 49 out of 50
in a Mathematical Physics exam
that I was so proud of, still am.
I do not remember much of
signs of sines and cosines.
I remember the differential equations
were all fine, but I was in love
with the curves of integration—
Because I once taught a scared young boy
in the confident body of a man
to not let his exponential fear of math
come in the way of his waking dreams
of flying with numbers.
Paper and pen in our hands,
together we melted his fear of math
into the heart of zero
and he flew     
far   far           far             away from me
on the infinite new wings of those numbers—