Friday, May 30, 2014

Squirrel Arithmetic

     My maternal grandfather, James Edgar Black (1871-1931) was a western Pennsylvanian, a carpenter, and a man I never knew.  But Ed, one of my cousins, found among our grandfather's long-stored things a scrapbook of collected poems and other miscellany that he recently passed on to me.  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Phenomenal Woman

Yesterday morning Maya Angelou (1928-1914) left us. But she has not left us alone.  Her voice is with us, cheering us to be more than we were, to be all that we can become.  Places to read her words and words about her include PoetryFoundation.org (scroll down past the bio for links to poems), Poets.org, The Washington Post, and Angelou's website.

Angelou's poetry is filled with the geometry and motion of womanhood.  For example: 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

How many grains of sand?

Recently one of my friends used "all the grains of sand" as an example of an infinite set "because it is impossible to count them all" and -- even as I rejected his answer -- I wondered how many of my other friends might agree with it.  In the following poem, mathematician Pedro Poitevin considers a similar question as he reflects on the countability of the birds in the night sky.

       Divertimentum Ornithologicum      by Pedro Poitevin

                              After Jorge Luis Borges's Argumentum Ornithologicum.

       A synchrony of wings across the sky
       is quavering its feathered beats of flight.
       Their number is too high to count -- I try 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Math rap

     Harry Baker is a Slam Champion who studies Maths at Bristol University, UK -- and his poetry sometimes features math, often having fun with the topic.  His web page has a link to a rap about maths and at the JMM reading in Boston in 2012, Baker submitted this rap, 59 (a love story, now on YouTube), for presentation that evening.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Public Image of a Mathematician

From John Dawson -- a professor emeritus of mathematics at the Penn State York campus and well-known for his publications in mathematical logic, often focusing on the life and work of Kurt Godel -- a poem on a topic that this blog visits from time to time, portraits of mathematicians.

       Public Image     by John W. Dawson, Jr.

       Please,
       I'm not an accountant.
       No,
       Mine doesn't always balance either.
       What do I do then?
       Well,
       On good days
       I prove theorems; 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Pound on poetry and mathematics

HERE at PoetryFoundation.org we find an article by Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), published in POETRY Magazine in 1916, in which Sandburg offers highest praise to poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972). Sandburg includes this quote from a 1910 essay by Pound that connects poetry and mathematics.

"Poetry is a sort of inspired mathematics, which gives us equations, 
not for abstract figures, triangles, spheres and the like, but equations 
for the human emotions.  If one have a mind which inclines to magic
rather than science,  one will prefer to speak of these equations 
as spells or incantations; it sounds more arcane, mysterious, recondite."

The complete article is available here.

And, in a footnote* to the poem "In a Station of the Metro" -- found in my Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry we find a bit more of Pound's mathematical thinking. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Land without a square

Here is a bit of light verse from the pen of John Updike (1932-2009).

ZULUS LIVE IN LAND 
WITHOUT A SQUARE     by John Updike

               A Zulu lives in a round world.  If he does not leave his reserve. 
     he can live his whole life through and never see a straight line.
                                             --headline and text from The New York Times

In Zululand the huts are round,
The windows oval, and the rooves
Thatched parabolically.  The ground
Is tilled in curvilinear grooves.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Barbie (b 1959) said (c 1990) "math is hard"

On April 24 I had the pleasure of reading at the Nora School with Martin Dickinson and Michele Wolf.  Back in March I had posted Dickinson's "Homage to Euclid" but mathematics is not a a focus of Wolf's work.  However, her poem below about Barbie has numbers, and any mention of Barbie reminds me of the controversy over "math is hard" -- one of the speeches uttered by an early 90's version of this doll.  (Please visit this posting from June 14, 2010 --  on "Girls and Mathematics" for additional Barbie-comments and more Barbie poetry.)   Here, now, please enjoy Wolf's poem:

Barbie Slits Open Her Direct-Mail Offer to Join AARP  
                                                                             by Michele Wolf

My worth is most inflated when, on tiptoes, I pose
In my original box, never handled, especially if I date
Back to '59 or '60.  But that is rare.  I am more used
To breaking out, to being the damp flamingo
Pecking to leave the shell.  I prefer moving forward.
I was an astronaut in '65, a surgeon in '73.  Last year

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

May 6, 1954

I learned about it via a news broadcast on Pittsburgh radio station KDKA and, for some reason, the event stuck firmly in my memory.  I was 13 years old and on May 6, 1954 Roger Bannister ran a mile in less than 4 minutes. The integer 4 is a perfect square as was Bannister's age then -- 25.  Alternatively, 13 is prime.  As is 60 + 13 = 73.  Yesterday marked 60 years since Bannister broke the record. I have come to love running.  And playing with numbers.

          I . . . never  
          will run out
          of numbers.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A pure mathematician (not!)

Poet Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943) was known for his humorous verse. Here is "A Pure Mathematician" -- a poem that stereotypes mathematicians in familiar, unflattering ways (from The Laughing Muse (Harper Brothers, 1915)).  In contrast to Guiterman's verse that pokes fun at mathematicians, I invite you to visit this posting from 28 January 2011 to read Sherman Stein's "Mathematician" -- a poem that not only is more fair to the profession but also features a female mathematician.

     A Pure Mathematician     by Arthur Guiterman

     Let Poets chant of Clouds and Things 
          In lonely attics! 
     A Nobler Lot is his, who clings 
          To Mathematics. 
     Sublime he sits, no Worldly Strife 
          His Bosom vexes, 
     Reducing all the Doubts of Life 
          To Y's and X's.