AWP Roundtable: “1.41421…: A Conversation Among Math Poets”

Welcome to our Sundress Roundtables, a celebration of exceptional, not-so-lost AWP panels which did not make the AWP final cut for 2018.

Math poetry (sometimes called mathematical poetry) can be loosely defined as poetry that connects in some way with math, other than poetic structure in general. There is a community of math-poets; some of us are actual mathematicians and some are  poets who “merely” enamored with math. Some of us know one another through conferences and publications. Some of us write a lot about or via math, while others write an occasional math poem.

In answering the questions below (developed by Marion D. Cohen), the four math poet presenters on this panel share their individual connections to math and poetry.

Do you identify more as a poet or as a mathematician, perhaps both equally? Which did you become first? Did either one give rise to the other?

 Sarah Glaz: The answer to this question differed at various times in my life. Before I started college, I considered myself an artist, poet and painter, who liked and was good at mathematics. I wrote poetry from a very young age, almost as soon as I learned to read and write, and also drew and painted with watercolors till I went to college. In fact, my intention in choosing mathematics as my major in college was to achieve some balance between my artistic side and my mathematical/scientific side. All this changed as I learned more advanced mathematics and developed a serious interest in exploring it. After graduating from college with a double major in mathematics and philosophy, I continued my education in mathematics and completed a PhD degree at Rutgers University. Throughout graduate school and for the first ten to fifteen years of my career as a teacher and researcher in mathematics, poetry took second place to mathematics.

I still had an interest in it, but I stopped writing poems. This may have also had to do with the adjustment to a new language and a new culture; I was born in Romania and my first poems were written in Romanian, and with the fact that I was too busy raising a family to do meaningful work in two disparate disciplines. I came back to writing poetry, this time in English, in 1991. By then mathematics has been an integral part of my world for many years, and the poetry I have written since 1991 is strongly influenced by the mathematics I have been involved in and by my life as a mathematician. Nowadays, I still consider myself more a mathematician than a poet. But poetry is very important to me, and I cannot imagine being just one and not the other.

JoAnne Growney: As a girl, I wanted to be a writer, but it was a math scholarship that paid for my college and I stayed in math through my doctorate and more than thirty years of teaching. But during my teaching years I began to write poems – some of them related to math – and I began to collect poems pertinent to my courses, offering them as outside readings and alternative viewpoints.

Gizem Karaali:  I think it is fair to say that I see myself as a mathematician first. In fact I have difficulty seeing myself as a poet, or rather seeing being a poet as something different from being human with feelings, which occasionally overflow. Perhaps this is because I am not a very disciplined poet. My poetry is random, and appears infrequently and almost always unexpectedly. For math and other things, I put aside time. For poetry, things bubble up and out and other things have to stop. Then of course I work with what came out but the initial impetus is unscheduled, unexpected, and unavoidable.

For me mathematics came before poetry. That is, I had already fallen in love with numbers and other mathematical structures before I put together a few words to write my first poem. However if I think further back, I can see that even before math came the words. I did  (and still do) love words first and foremost.

Marion Cohen: This question reminds me of the proverbial chicken and egg! My main passion is math, always has been. But most of my publications, meaning most of my interactions with the world, are poetry and memoir. As to which I became first… well, they kind of went together; each pushed forward the other. My math passion began when I first took algebra, or at any rate that’s when I consciously knew about my math passion. Through algebra, I realized that there are reasons why various math things worked; math things could be proven. In particular, all the little “number tricks” that my friends and I had played on each other could be explained, and I also asked myself the question, which pairs of numbers have the same product as sum? It seemed to me that math might be able to explain everything, even non-math things like emotional stuff from my personal life or political things like the issues of my teenage-hood (segregation, capital punishment…), not so different from societal issues today…  Mostly, math to me expressed the mysteries, existential and so on.

I began writing my feelings about math in my diary, alongside the other teenage-girl diary things. What I wrote wasn’t poetry with line breaks but it was poetic. (Some of it I’ve had published in my adulthood.) That’s how I got started with poetry in general, though that didn’t show up ‘til my early 30’s. So math brought on the poetry. And the poetry brought on more math – math itself and more writing about math. My first poetry collection, “The Weirdest Is the Sphere”, was of math poetry (published by Seven Woods Press – very mathematical!), and another book, also entirely of math poetry, titled “Crossing the Equal Sign” (Plain View Press), came out about ten years ago. My other books (probably all of them) contain math poems, too, because math can connect with regular non-math life; it all keeps coming on!

Do you write poetry that you view as not particularly mathematical? Do you feel that perhaps ALL poetry is math-poetry? Or perhaps some poems are more “math-y” than others? Is there, in your view, some rule, or some definition of math-poetry?

Sarah Glaz: I do write poetry that I do not consider mathematical. But it is not easy to define what a mathematical poem is. Different people have different definitions. In 2010, I was asked to define mathematical poetry by Kaz Maslanka, who is a different kind of mathematical poet from me, and has a different definition of what mathematical poetry is. Below is a slight editing of the answer I gave Kaz at the time, which, for me, is still valid:

Mathematical poetry is an umbrella term for poetry with a strong link to mathematics in either imagery, content, or structure. The mathematics involved in mathematical poetry does not have to be mathematically significant. Some poems I would call mathematical involve just arithmetic, or counting. Also, just the inclusion of a certain mathematical component does not make a poem mathematical. For example, all formal poetry has a built-in mathematical structure, but we would not call a sonnet a mathematical poem just because it has 14 lines. The link of the poem to its mathematical component has to be strong. If the link to mathematics is in the poem’s structure, there has to be something non-standard, or unusual, about the use of mathematics in the poem’s structure to make the poem a mathematical poem. I left, on purpose, the term “poetry” undefined because I want to include in this definition poems that have only mathematical symbols. Although my preference is for poetry that includes words, I would like the term mathematical poetry to embrace all poetic mathematical forms, even those that come to us from the depth of mathematical silence in symbol form. (a variation of this definition appeared on Kaz’s website: http://mathematicalpoetry.blogspot.com/2010/08/sarah-glazs-definition.html)

JoAnne Growney: When I began writing poetry much of it was not mathematical in its content – I was writing about my family, my relationships, my dreams.  But as I read biographies of famous math women – like Emmy Noether or Sofia Kovalevskaya – I also began to write about them.  In addition, mathematics is one of my strong vocabularies  – and often math terms are what seems best to express an idea.

I do not see a rule or definition for the term “math poetry” but see many ways in which poems may have mathematical connections.  The metrical and rhyming patterns that underlie many poems involve counting and permutations – and are thus linked to mathematics. Some poetry is linked to mathematics via mathematical terminology.

I do NOT see ALL poetry as math poetry.

Gizem Karaali:  I have written poems that are not mathematical. Indeed most of my poetry is not mathematical, I’d say. When the well is full, the next poem comes out, and it does not have to have math in it, because my life is not only mathematical. So no, I’d say not all poetry is math poetry. Math poetry, for me, is poetry that engages with mathematics one way or another. It is poetry that either in its form, or in its content, or in its language and metaphor has something intentionally mathematical in it.

Marion Cohen: Some of my poems are more mathematical than others. And people have said, from reading or hearing my relatively non-mathematical ones, that “I can tell you’re a mathematician.” But there’s other subject matter that I’ve written several books about and that I’m known for in certain circles, such as pregnancy loss (my third baby died at the age of two days – for the record, I have four living children) and spousal chronic illness (my first husband had multiple sclerosis).

I’ve often said that, whenever anything happens to me I write many books about it! And math happened to me. Math wasn’t a tragedy, though for me there are poignant and sometimes sad or disturbing and/or existential things about it (math itself, not only the struggle to prove things or to have a career).

I also don’t believe that all poetry is math poetry. Some mathematicians , including me, feel that all math is poetry (well, poetic). At any rate, my own math poetry is poetry about math. And among my “non-math poetry”, I’d say some poems are more math-y than others. Some, e.g., contain a line or two of poetic images from math. And some just have, perhaps, more logic in them than most poems.

To me, the definition of math poetry is poetry that has to do with math in some way, either is about math or one’s mathematical life, or mathematical aspects of one’s non-mathematical life, or loving or hating or fearing math, or, again, has some poetic structure that is mathematical, or is a concrete poem which uses math symbols (integral signs, limits…), or is about, say, a woman mathematician. There’s a wide range.

Has writing math poetry (and/or poetic prose) helped you to understand, or to like, math more than you did before you wrote math poetry? If so, can you describe how?

JoAnne Growney: I do not see a way in which writing poetry about mathematics has helped me to understand or like math BUT reading the math poems of others has helped me understand how they think of math, and that has been very interesting.

Gizem Karaali:  YES! I think math poetry has allowed me to connect with my mathematical self more generously, in a humorous and gentle way. It has allowed me (and still does allow me) to think of and understand better the human aspects of doing, learning, teaching, and living mathematics. It also has helped me connect with other math poets who have opened up new windows for me to see.

Marion Cohen: As I said in my answer to #1, in my teenage years, math inspired poetry, which in turn inspired math. Back in the 90s I was working on a particular math problem (It had to do with graph theory but I didn’t realize that at the time…). It was a difficult problem, I had to dig deep, and as I dug deep I described the feeling of it in poems. Each lemma (or attempted lemma…) gave rise to a poem or two. Many, probably most, of the poems in “Crossing the Equal Sign” come from working on that math problem.

And yes, I love math more because of the math poetry. The poetry cements and enhances the math, also commemorates it in some way that the math itself doesn’t. (And of course if the math turns out to be wrong, or to not ever be published, then at least I have the poems!) Sometimes, when I prepare a lecture for a class, I write a poem (sometimes a limerick) that helps me (and the students) to better understand that piece of math.

As a teenager I couldn’t think of math in terms other than poetic. That, to me, was what math was. It took me awhile to realize that not all mathematicians were poets or poetic, or conscious of being poets and that was, at certain stages of my life, disappointing to me.

Do you feel that you’re part of the community of math poets? If so, to what extent?

Sarah Glaz: I am part of an international community of mathematical poets. I would like to call this international community “The Bridges Poets.”  Not only do we create a bridge between poetry and mathematics, but also most of us come to the annual conferences of the Bridges organization (http://bridgesmathart.org/) to read and listen to mathematical poems, to present and attend talks, and to participate in workshops on the connections between mathematics and poetry. I serve as the poetry reading coordinator of the Bridges organization and make an effort to discover and bring to the Bridges conferences mathematical poets who write in English or had their poems translated into English. But the community of mathematical poets is larger than those who attend the Bridges conferences. Fortunately, computers allow for communication among us even if we do not meet in person. There are a number of “online centers” where people with interest in mathematical poetry can read, and sometimes also post, mathematical poems, related writings, and news of relevant events. One such center is JoAnne Growney’s blog: Intersections — Poetry with Mathematics (http://poetrywithmathematics.blogspot.com/). A number of journals also act as meeting centers by publishing mathematical poetry and related scholarly papers on a regular basis. Among those are: The Journal of Humanistic Mathematics (http://scholarship.claremont.edu/jhm/), The Mathematical Intelligencer (https://link.springer.com/journal/283), Talking Writing (http://talkingwriting.com/), and last, but closest to my heart, The Journal of Mathematics and the Arts (http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tmaa20/current), for which I serve as Associate Editor. In addition, in 2014, I acted as guest editor for a special issue of the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts on mathematics and poetry (http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tmaa20/8/1-2#.VJMDFnACAeA).

JoAnne Growney: In a general sense, since I know and socialize with some other people who write poetry that connects to mathematics, I am part of that “community.”  But through my blog (“Intersections – Poetry with Mathematics” at http://poetrywithmathematics.blogspot.com) I am connected to a broader community of many, many persons who write and/or appreciate a selection of mathy poems.

Gizem Karaali: I would say so. I know quite a few math poets through my work with the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics and the poetry readings at various annual mathematics conferences. I certainly know more math poets than non-math poets. I feel that there is a kinship between people who love math and poetry and who engage in math poetry.

Marion Cohen: Yes, I feel very much a part of the community of math poets. This community came together relatively recently – say, in the past 25 years. It began for me when I was teaching at Drexel U; a colleague told me about Viewpoints Art/Math Conference and I partook of that. That initial Viewpoints Conference developed into several other Viewpoints Conferences, and it was probably through someone there that I learned about the Bridges Math/Art Conferences, held annually the last week in July. At first Bridges was essentially about visual art; I might have been the first to present writing/poetry. Now the poetry component of Bridges is surviving bigtime, thanks in huge part to Sarah Glaz, who’s on this panel.

Also, the math community in general is more interested in poetry than it used to be. E.g., math journals publish math-poetry and review books of math-poetry.

For many decades I was isolated with my math poetry (during my teen age years I was isolated, by choice, with both my math and my writing), and with my poetic take on math. Now it feels great, and very interesting, that a math poet community exists – and that I’ve matured enough to be part of it.

How do you see the significance of math-poetry – in the math, the poetry, and the societal arenas – and of its recent emergence?

Sarah Glaz: : Only the future can tell which art form has a lasting impact.

JoAnne Growney: I am not sure that I understand the question. I find that almost everything I learn has connections to almost every other thing I have learned; in short, “everything connects!”

Both poetry and mathematics are language forms in which it typically occurs that lots of information is packed into a few symbols. And so, for both of these, coming to understanding often takes several re-readings and a sustained effort.

Gizem Karaali:  In the mathematics world math poetry is helping us humanize the discipline, make the community a more welcoming one, one which encourages people of mathematics to connect with their emotions and personal experiences related to mathematics. In the world of poetry, math poetry is still a tiny drop, but if I am allowed some optimism, that little drop can help others, those who would not call themselves mathematical people by any stretch of the phrase, to appreciate that mathematics can be a humanizing life force, for at least some people.

Marion Cohen: The emergence of math-poetry and the community of math-poets seems significant for at least three reasons: (A) It helps prevent students and the general public from feeling that math is a cold unfeeling subject, and thus helps people feel less alien-ated from math (and other sciences). This makes a dent in the phenomenon known as math anxiety. (B) It encourages women and other minorities who either aspire to become math-people, or who simply would benefit from trusting math more than they do. (C) Math teachers on the elementary and high school level often often have math anxiety! This is partially because teachers’ colleges teach more about teaching than about math. So math-poetry could help these math teachers feel more comfortable with math, which is good for both teachers and students.

If you incorporate poetry into your teaching of math, tell us more!

Sarah Glaz: : I use mathematical poetry in all my mathematics classes. In general, the most common use of poetry in college math classes is in general education courses designed for students who intend to major in the humanities. The aim is to reach out to students through a medium they love, in order to develop an appreciation for mathematics, or develop the mathematical thought process, rather than to teach specific material. My first use of poetry in a math course was for such a general education course. In this course, I assigned group-works in which the mathematical problems were written in verse. Several years later, I developed a course in remedial college algebra. I prepared a number of group-works for this class in which the poems were chosen for their ability to enhance students’ capability to perceive patterns and develop strategies for turning “word problems” into “math problems.” In other words, each poem acted as a go-between the words and the equations.  In more advanced classes, like Calculus, Linear Algebra, Abstract Algebra and even graduate courses, I use a small number of mathematiccal poems to pique students’ curiosity as well as to enrich their learning experience by placing what is learned in the classroom in a broader historical, artistic and social context. A different kind of mathematics course in which I use poetry is my History of Mathematics course. At the University of Connecticut this course is restricted to math majors and is designed not only to teach the history of mathematical ideas, but also to improve students’ writing ability. I use historical mathematical poetry and contemporary mathematical poetry on history of mathematics topics, and also use a number of well written scholarly papers highlighting connections between mathematics and poetry in historical context. My aim is to deepen students’ involvement in the subject, and also to add some magic spark to the classroom exposition that only poetry can achieve.

I have written a number of papers on the uses of poetry in math education which provide more technical details. Interested readers can access those from my website (http://www.math.uconn.edu/~glaz/).

JoAnne Growney: When I was teaching mathematics, I enriched my classes with outside readings  – sometimes history and biography, some-times poetry – and related discussions or papers. The poems I gathered led me to start my blog (“Intersections – Poetry with Mathematics” at http://poetrywithmathematics.blogspot.com) so that I could share them with others.

Gizem Karaali: In several of my classes I ask my students to engage with math poetry, both as readers and creators. I have written about this elsewhere, see for instance: Can Zombies Write Mathematical Poetry? Mathematical Poetry as a Model for humanistic mathematics, Journal of Mathematics and the Arts, Volume 8 Issue 1-4 (2014), pp. 38-45  available at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17513472.2014.926685 .To summarize, I find poetry to be a great way to help students connect with their emotions about and experiences with mathematics at a deeper level.

Marion Cohen: I teach a course that I developed, Mathematics in Literature, which is just what it sounds like! So naturally I use poetry in that course. Since I hope that students will someday write “math literature” (as some wind up doing for their term papers), I tailor the homework/class conversation questions such that they encourage, but not force, students to write and talk about their own experiences; to further encourage that, I talk about my own experiences, including the two tragedies in my life but also my passion for math. (This means that I include one of my own  “math memoirs” as course material, “The Night I Didn’t Grow Up”, Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, available at: http://scholarship.claremont.edu/jhm/vol2/iss2/9. I also hand out copies of math poems, my own and others’, that pertain to things we study but are not course material.)

Some citations for articles about my “Math/Lit” course are:

Dear Math: I Hate You: For the Learning of Mathematics, Marion Cohen, Vol. 36 Num.

2 (2016)

Truth and Beauty: Mathematics in Literature: The Mathematics Teacher, March 2013,

Vol 106, Issue 7

Math in Poetry: Half of a Course: archive.bridgesmathart.org/2012/bridges2012-73.pdf

When I have taught plain-ol’-math courses like calculus… well, I’ve written limericks about every topic I’ve taught and I share these limericks with students (these are handed out in the spirit of “presents”, no obligation to read). Writing these limericks and reading them as part of lecture preparation helps me to understand the material in a new way, and the totality of them gives me a good, short, overview that helps in lecturing.

At first I didn’t specifically use the limericks in the body of my teaching. Modesty, plus time considerations, caused me to simply hand them out either at the very beginning or the very end of the course. I also prefer to be non-invasive in my teaching, to not force limericks or other poetry on students who might not want them, or who might view them as something else to keep track of. So I’m careful to quip, “the limericks are optional”, and not to over-use them as pedagogical tools. Even so, one student wrote on the end-of-term evaluation form, “I would prefer not to have poetry in the course”. Ouch!

On the other hand, one student told me, “I learn well from you because I know that you relate to me as a writer”. I hadn’t known this student was a writer but she still felt that I related to her in that way.

If the following applies: do you incorporate poetry into your teaching non-math subjects?

JoAnne Growney:  When I lead poetry workshops, I often include information about the structure of poems – about syllable counting and permutations, for example — in such gatherings.

Marion Cohen: I haven’t taught non-math courses, but I have facilitated non-math workshops in various capacities, and several of these involve poetry. Most recently I have facilitated “Well Spouse Writing Workshops”, in which well spouses (meaning people who are spouses of chronically ill people) come together to write about things they might have formerly thought forbidden. I begin by recounting my experiences as a well spouse writer and by sharing a short (and poetic) paragraph from one of my well spouse memoirs. Participants thus feel comfortable sharing their own “forbidden” thoughts and feelings. I also believe that my experience as a once-upon-a-time isolated writer has sensitized me to some of the hesitancies of my workshop participants.

If you’re a parent, do you incorporate math poetry into your parenting? If you’re not a parent, do you incorporate math poetry into your interactions with children?

Sarah Glaz: Sorry, I don’t think I ever did, but it might have been absorbed by osmosis. My son started as a math major and later completed an MFA in Creative Writing, and is now a writer who teaches English at college level.

JoAnne Growney:  Many children’s rhymes are mathy and I have enjoyed them with children and with grandchildren.

Gizem Karaali: My children are quite young, and they do not yet know that mathematics is not a standard theme in poetry, so they do not know the difference between poetry and math poetry. And I kind of like that! At this point we are playing around with poetic forms like haiku but I have not intentionally introduced math poetry to them.

Marion Cohen: Mostly, I share my poetry, math and otherwise, with my children, now grown, via just-plain writing it and not keeping that any secret. Recently my youngest son Devin has identified as a poet (he’s also a visual artist), and he and I have given readings together. I also remember making up a babychant for Devin when he was an infant. “Zero times one / is zero. /Zero times two / is zero. /Zero times three / is zero…” Also, math has fed into my feelings as a mother – pregnancy, birth, motherhood in general. Some of my poems in “Crossing the Equal Sign” strive to express “the mysteries” of motherhood as they relate to the mysteries of math and of existence.  Finally, as a home-schooling mother I taught math, or at any rate arithmetic, via a card game. The game is called Casino; my parents played it with my sister and me when we were kids. I made up an “ex-tended” version, in which not only addition but subtraction, multiplication, division, even exponentiation, is permitted; my youngest had much to gain by learning that anything (other than 0) to the 0th power is 1, since playing 1’s got him aces, worth special points!

How has knowing about the community of math poets affected your own math, writing, and living?

Sarah Glaz: It is important to me to feel part of a community of mathematical poets. The relation between mathematics and music was established by Pythagoras in about 500 BC. There is also a long-term traditional connection between visual arts and geometry. Musicians and visual artists, who are also mathematicians, can easily find kindred spirits. The relation between mathematics and the literary arts is more complex. Throughout history, this relation waxed and waned. In some periods of time they were considered complimentary and supporting disciplines, while at other times they were seen as conflicting ways of seeing the world. Not long ago, in 1959, the well-known British novelist and scholar, C. P. Snow, described the sciences and the humanities as forever divided into “two cultures”. In our own time, many of us seem to have crossed the great divide and embrace the similarities along with the differences in a creative and joyful way. Still, mathematical poets are a relative minority.  It is easy to feel isolated when you love both words and numbers, particularly if what you create from words are poems. I am very grateful for the growing community of mathematical poets for comradeship, support, and inspiration.

JoAnne Growney: I enjoy discovering common interests with people I meet – and find that when I share interests with friends it often encourages that interest in me.

Gizem Karaali: Math poetry helped me connect with some beautiful people. It has also opened up ways of writing that I had not allowed myself before. My voice in my more recent articles is a lot freer, a lot more like me. All in all I think it has enriched my life, mathematical and otherwise.

Marion Cohen: The math poet community has caused me to do it more (all three mentioned above: math, writing, and living…). I feel justified, I feel encouraged, I get published! It helps me feel that I’ve done my part in bettering this world. And of course I’ve made some great colleagues and friends.

 

SOME MATH POEMS BY THE PRESENTERS:

Sarah Glaz

Sample poem from ODE TO NUMBERS, poems by Sarah Glaz (Antrim House, 2017).

√2  = 1.41421…

We started our voyage on the gulf of Tarentum.

The sea was choppy
and the brothers were restless.
At dawn, we gathered on the deck
intent to solve the conflict like rational men.

Hippasus still refused to keep the secret.
He had discovered that
the diagonal of a square
is incommensurable
with its side.

Alas! Our world had collapsed
and so did our geometric proofs.

Too much to lose, we heaved him overboard.

from ODE TO NUMBERS (Antrim House, 2017)

Historical Note:  In the 5th century BC, the Pythagorean Hippasus of Metapontum discovered the existence of irrational numbers. Particularly, he had shown that   — the length of the diagonal of a square with a unit side— is an irrational number. For his sin, legend has it, Hippasus was thrown overboard during a sea voyage. The poem plays with the imaginary possibility that his murder occurred before he breached the Pythagorean code of secrecy and made his discovery public. The line count of the poem’s stanzas follows the decimal expansion of √ to 5 decimal places.

Like a Mathematical Proof

A poem courses through me
like a mathematical proof,
arriving whole from nowhere,
from a distant galaxy of thought.
It pours on paper
impatiently
faster than my hand
can write,
stretches wings,
flaps,
twists and turns,
strikes sparks as it forms.
It is a creature
of indescribable
mystery
like a mathematical proof   ̶
its passage
fills me
with
inner peace.

 

JoAnne Growney 

It had been my plan to include the second poem below (“A Baker’s Dozen,” a villanelle that has fun with rhyming related to numbers one through thirteen) but, in the midst of my development of answers to these survey questions, I got an email from a teaching friend who said that he had asked his students in a Quantitative Reasoning class to read a bit of poetry, including “Which Girl Am I?” – and that poem had generated a large amount of important class discussion about math attitudes and feminist views, and he felt that some important insights has occurred because of that poem.  And so I present it also.

Which Girl Am I?

The girl who’s not forced to divide
into the good girl and the real one
is a lucky one.  I was eleven
when I felt a crack begin.
In time I fully split — two minds
took on two heads, two faces,
two cuts of hair.  Mock feelings
serve as well as true ones,
I told myself — but buried parts
still surface like cicadas in their year.

Long division is difficult
and plagued with remainders.

A girl with two heads
is like a bird with one wing.

 

 A Baker’s Dozen

Counting likes to start with number one.
An easy mate to pair with one makes two –-
and three can be a triangle of fun.

Four enumerates my daughters and my sons.
I have five fingers on the hand I give to you.
Counting likes to start with number one.

With six the perfect numbers are begun.
Seven names a rest-day, breaks the queue —
and three can be a triangle of fun.

I sometimes call on eight to make a pun.
Nine numbers lives I hope will see me through.
Counting likes to start with number one.

When ten years pass, another decade’s done.
Eleven’s the hour I hope for my rescue —
and three can be a triangle of fun.

Twelve counts a dozen — eggs or hot-dog buns.
Thirteen offers luck that some eschew.
Counting likes to start with number one
and three can be a triangle of fun.

 

Gizem Karaali 

A Mother’s Math Is Never Done
        September 20, 2017

Beyond dark clouds is the blue sky.
The day will come to do your math.
Once you put away the clutter.
Someday again you know you’ll fly.
Now’s not the journey’s end, just a detour on the path.
Only today, hold your breath, for you are a mother.

Today you are the mother.
Today she reaches for the sky.
Today your job’s to clear her path.
Today your job’s not at all math.
Today it’s not you who will fly.
So you hold her hand, and stand still amidst the clutter.

You still stand amidst the clutter:
Is this what it means to mother?
Where have your wings gone now? Did you really ever fly?
You cannot hear the wind, or even see the blue sky.
Today is not a day for math.
Today math is not your path.

So you want math to be her path.
You seek patterns in her clutter.
You know one day she’ll just say “Math!”
She’s the daughter of her mother.
Looking up to the deep night sky.
She too is dreaming surely of learning how to fly.

She’s dreaming of learning to fly.
Of taking off, charting her path.
Cutting through a summer eve’s sky.
Numbers left behind, a clutter.
Who’ll clean it up but the mother?
And who, you ask, will do the math?

Then “I”, you say, “will do the math!
“Isn’t it time for me to fly?”
Quick, do shake up your wings, mother!
Math’s ready to become your path.
Leave aside the toys, the clutter.
It’s time again to touch the sky!

So once again math is your path.
Now you can fly together, leave behind the clutter.
And reach up to the sky, a daughter and her mother.

 

Marion Deutsche Cohen

(untitled)

I am no workaholic. But I’m collecting points and lines.

Not like stamps.
No, I wouldn’t trade them.
I simply have to have them.
I need a group portrait
all of them smiling.

I have to have a hand
with these beauties as fingers.
I have to hold a vase
with these cuties as flowers.

I should contact a colleague.
I should go online.
But – don’t you see?
I have to do this alone.

I am based in reality.
But God created these lambies
set them out to green-pasture
and maketh me
to lie down.

from Crossing the Equal Sign (Plain View Press, 2007)

 

(untitled)

What is this business of things existing?
What is this business of people existing?
What is this business of math existing?
When I get that far gone I imagine a piece of paper with math written on it.
I imagine cutting out the math
cutting around all the numbers and symbols.
I imagine the cut-out math and I imagine the stencil.
The paper is very white.
The math is also white.
Maybe I even imagine cutting out the math without it having been written.

from Crossing the Equal Sign (Plain View Press, 2007)

  


BIOS AND PHOTOS OF THE PRESENTERS

SarahGlaz

Sarah Glaz’s first poetry collection, Ode to Numbers, was published by Antrim House in 2017. Her poetry and translations appeared in: Ibis Review, Convergence, The Mathematical Monthly, The Ghazal Page, Recursive Angel, The Humanistic Mathematics Journal, The London Grip, Talking Writing, and other periodicals and anthologies. Among her publications are three anthologies of mathematical poetry. Sarah is Emerita Professor of Mathematics at the University of Connecticut. As a mathematician she has published books and articles in the area of Commutative Ring Theory. Sarah serves as Associate Editor for the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts, and is the coordinator of the poetry readings at the annual Bridges conferences. For more information visit Sarah’s website.

 

JoAnneGrowney

Shown above are JoAnne and her diverse group of eight grandchildren, seven of whom are girls — all of whom like math and most of whom like poetry.

As a child, JoAnne Growney supposed that she wanted to be a writer – but she was good at math and a science scholarship earned her a college BS in mathematics from Westminster College in PA.  As a high school math teacher, she stumbled into graduate school – where she eventually earned an MA at Temple University and a PhD from the University of Oklahoma.  During sabbaticals while a mathematics professor at Bloomsburg University she became aware of the importance of history and the arts to mathematics and began to offer outside readings for her students in both history and poetry.  When her children left home, she found time to write poetry – and sometimes it was related to mathematics.  Eventually she found time to study poetry –- some classes at nearby Bucknell University and then on to an MFA in creative writing at Hunter College in Manhattan.  Lots more information about her  — and her math and her poetry — is available in her blog and at her website.  One of her guiding hypotheses is “Everything connects.”

blog: https://poetrywithmathematics.blogspot.com
website: https://joannegr.dot5hosting.com

GizemKaraali 

Gizem Karaali is originally from Istanbul, Turkey, where she graduated with undergraduate degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics. She earned her mathematics PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. Today she is an associate professor of mathematics at Pomona College, a highly selective undergraduate institution in the United States. Karaali’s research lies in the representation theory of Lie superalgebras, super quantum groups, and algebraic combinatorics. Her scholarly interests include humanistic mathematics, quantitative literacy, and social justice implications of mathematics & mathematics education. Karaali is a founding editor of the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics and serves as an associate editor of the Mathematical Intelligencer and Numeracy. In the last decade, she wrote over fifty articles and she received federal grants for her research and teaching (from the National Security Agency and the National Endowment for the Humanities). Through her career, she has made connections within and outside of her academic discipline and served her professional societies as well as her community.

 

MarionCohen

Marion Deutsche Cohen is the author of 26 collections of poetry or memoir; including two controversial memoirs about spousal chronic illness, a pregnancy loss trilogy, and  “Crossing the Equal Sign”, poetry about the experience of math. Her math Ph.D. is from Wesleyan University and her short memoir about the unusual way that she got it appears on the Humanistic Mathematics Journal site. She teaches math and writing at Arcadia University in Glenside PA where she has developed the course, Mathematics in Literature. A chapbook of poetry, “Truth and Beauty”, about the interaction in that course among students and teacher, was released in December 2016 from WordTech Editions. Currently (and for her entire adult life) she has worked on something which she calls “associative arithmetics”. She writes reviews of math books and her limericks about women mathematicians are on her website. Other interests are classical piano, singing, Scrabble, thrift-shopping, four grown children, and five grands.

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One thought on “AWP Roundtable: “1.41421…: A Conversation Among Math Poets”

  1. Thank you, Sundress, for publication of this conversation of which I have been able to be a part. I hope that people everywhere will soon see the wisdom of including the arts with the sciences, enlarging STEM to STEAM.

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