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Lyric Essentials: Julie Marie Wade Reads Two Poems by Maureen Seaton

Julie Marie Wade is the author of ten collections of poetry and prose and a longtime reader of Maureen Seaton. When we sat down to talk about Seaton’s work, Wade had deeply valuable insight which took us down roads from the epiphanous to the Blunderbuss. Wade looks deep into the heart of Seaton’s work and evidences the grace and good humor with which she connects. This interview is as much a tribute to Seaton by Wade as it is an instructional for anyone who hasn’t yet considered the importance of Seaton’s wide-ranging body of works. This interview made me wish I were one of Wade’s students.

Black: What made you choose the work of Maureen Seaton?

Wade: I think there are poets each of us have needed for many years before we find them, and when their poems appear before us at last, the experience is almost mystical—a feeling of having known someone before you knew them, of being deeply affirmed by the epiphany of their presence in the world. Maureen Seaton is just such a mystical, epiphanous, much-needed poet for me.

I went to high school and college in the 1990s, at a time when Maureen was coming out as queer and coming into her own as a poet who worked as diligently in form (sonnets, villanelles, et al.) as she did in the most envelope-pushing, experimental spaces. She was taking risks, in her life and in her art, that I didn’t yet realize a person, let alone a woman-person, could take.

Somehow I did not encounter Maureen’s writing until after I had already taken the greatest plunge of my own life, though—not going through with my marriage to a man at the end of my first year of graduate school and continuing my journey through life with my true love, a woman named Angie, to whom I am now happily married.

Not long after that plunge, in 2003 or 2004, I read a poem by Denise Duhamel called “When I Was a Lesbian,” which I found stunning and thrilling, a poem which opened doors for me to imagine my own life as formerly (for all intents and purposes) heterosexual. I took that poem as an invitation to begin exploring more consciously the first twenty-two years of my life “when I was straight.” But what I didn’t realize until I delved deeper into the collaborative poetry written by Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton (Exquisite Politics indeed!) was that Denise’s poem was written as a response to Maureen’s own “When I Was Straight,” which belongs to an ever-growing series of other poems—“When I Was Avant-garde,” “When I Was a Jersey Girl,” “When I Was Bi(nary),” etc.—that opened onto the vast landscape of Maureen’s work in conditional, circumstantial, and subjunctive spaces.

Years later, I had the privilege of meeting and coming to know both of these poets, long-time friends and collaborators, in real life, and I was audacious enough to ask them to bless my own book-length project, a collection of poems called When I Was Straight. Not only did they bless it—they blurbed it, collaboratively!

 

Black: Why these particular poems of Seaton’s?

Wade: I have never read a Maureen Seaton poem where I didn’t have the sensation, at one point and usually at many points, of hearing a gong reverberate inside my head. When I read Maureen’s “When I Was Straight,” the gong struck loudest at this moment: “there is no lover like a panicked lover.” It was one of those moments—the best moments for readers of poetry, I think, or readers of any literature—where I sketched in my notebook, How did she know?!?! There was a cosmos in that line, one I recognized in my own life but had never even attempted to name, let alone in such a concise and elegant (and witty—I love the omnipresence of Maureen’s sense of humor across her canon) way.

So I knew I wanted to record this poem because it was the first, though by no means the last, of Maureen’s poems to seize me in that visceral and oracular kind of way. Then, I started looking at other aspects of the poem, particularly the diction and the juxtapositions. Who describes heteronormativity as “that Old Boyfriend Theory of Headache and Blunderbuss”? Who uses the word “blunderbuss”? I started noticing the little sparks coming off of pairings like “linearity and menthol” (an abstraction paired with a potent concrete), “pretense and fellatio” (there again), and chewy Anglo-Saxon words and phrases like “crowded with cleavage,” “fickle,” and “winged clavicle.” Which is to say I fell in love with this poem on all levels: conceptually, sonically, stylistically. It’s also meta, as the poem performs its own “trapeze art and graceful aerobics.” The poem is that art, those aerobics.

For the second poem, I ran into the challenging fact of the enormous range and depth of Maureen’s body of work to date. With so many gongs striking inside my head, so much marginalia scribbled on every page, I decided to choose a poem that moves in diametrically different ways than “When I Was Straight.” That poem is pulled taut like a tightrope in its shape on the page—all those lovely tercets upon which the speaker-as-tightrope-walker is performing her remarkable feats, turning somersaults and riding unicycles and juggling torches. I wanted to showcase something different. There were so many poems I considered— “What She Thought,” “Impatiences,” “The Nomenclature of Wind,” “He Crossed the Hallway with a Soul in His Hand,” and “Red” standout among them—but in the end I chose “The Realm of the Wide” as exemplar of Maureen’s wide-realm poetics. Instead of a tightrope, this poem is the circus tent, a canopy she opens over the whole world of her knowing and longing and wondering. If this poem were a horoscope, it would describe something essential about every Zodiac sign.

 

Black: “The Realm of the Wide” is particularly unique in its scope. This is a winding long-poem with a lot of great turns. What about it do you want to call particular attention to?

Wade: Through all my years as a student, there was an incongruity—really a snobbishness—that I never understood in the realm of literary theory. We learned there was a school of criticism called reader response, but then we learned, both explicitly and in a variety of subtle ways, that this school didn’t “count” as a real school. We could deconstruct and post-structuralize. We could go through mimetic doors and intertextual doors and feminist doors in our examination of texts, but we couldn’t go through that primary door of our own personal experience of intellectual-emotional-visceral engagement. As a teacher of creative writing, I know I don’t stand a chance of encouraging my students to “write as readers”—to cultivate an awareness of their audience—without acknowledging and anticipating a reader’s response to their work. And if we are writers, we were readers first and also readers in a state of essential perpetuity, let’s hope! So how can I ask my students not to cross the threshold of reader response, which I value not only as a doorway to meaningful analysis but also as a doorway to meaningful emulation?

Which is to say: “The Realm of the Wide” speaks to me directly as a poet with similar intellectual and emotional investments to Maureen Seaton. It also speaks to me as a poet who is always studying the possibilities of poetic form and the elasticity of poetry as a genre. It speaks to me as a teacher of poetry for similar reasons—the thrilling range of invitations and permissions the text offers to fellow and future writers. This poem further addresses me as a person with multi-genre and hybrid-text infatuations and commitments. I wonder whether poem is really only one name this text might answer to. Is it a micro-lyric-essay, too? A micro-lyric-segmented-braided essay? Some or all of the above?

This imperative alone: “Feel yourself mingle with the word you love beside you.” That’s what poets do, and lyric essayists, too. The words are alive. They can lose cells and run temperatures.

I’m also obsessed with finding new ways to talk about the moon, something that crystallized for me when I read Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s extraordinary memoir, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. She invites readers to tell her something she hasn’t heard before about that much-romanticized heavenly body. Maureen does it here, seamlessly: “this moon has got me up the way someone comes in and drags you out of bed to play cards or eat mayonnaise on toast at 3 AM…” Yes! That way. That moon. Exactly.

There are bullet points in this poem, denoting the list from “baby pigs” to “a shaman in a wheelchair.” The blanks that follow the chorus of adjectives “Sorrowful,” “Joyful,” and “Glorious” are actual blanks, not the word “blank,” which changes the experience of reading the poem on the page versus listening to the poem read aloud. These visual poetics in Maureen’s work instantly transform the ranch house poem into a multi-floored mansion: rooms on top of rooms, a ceiling that is also a floor, etc.

And then the two quotes juxtaposed at the end, the high-art intellectual sound of Magritte’s statement about “symbolic meanings” and the profound yet directly accessible statement about vanilla attributed simply to “Nick,” the famous artist in conversation with the Everyman or Anyman. This is Maureen’s hierarchy-neutralizing power as a poet. She validates so many ways of knowing simultaneously. She rejects high horses. Her work is full of dark horses and wild horses. Her work epitomizes for me what Magritte means by “the inherent mystery” that many people sense in an image but are also frightened by because it can’t be easily named and thereby tamed. I find that inherent mystery everywhere in Maureen’s work, so I’m just holding up this poem as a representative example. When she says, “It mattered, but only slightly,” she is making a spectrum out of a taken-for-granted binary. If we are used to thinking of things mattering or things not mattering, as many of us are, then here come those surprising hoofbeats of “slight mattering,” the invitation to a thought experiment of mattering on a sliding scale.

Maureen’s is a luminous, curious, capacious, unrelenting mind. I would follow her anywhere because she has never used her intellect as a weapon or crafted her rigorous, expansive poems with only an elite readership in mind. On the contrary, I find Maureen Seaton to be one of Poetryland’s most generous guides. If she takes her readers into a swamp, she supplies the waders. She also grows and tends the orchids we are destined to find there.

Black: Does this work connect to your own in some way?

Wade: Perhaps more than any other poet, Maureen has taught me that you can write as and from all your varied versions of self, including the most seemingly contradictory. Many poets become known for writing a certain way, a certain kind of “signature style,” a recognizable shape to the content and/or appearance of their poems—but not Maureen. I think her poems are deeply fluid, within and across every book project and sometimes even within a single poem. These poems are queer in the truest and deepest sense of the word—spectral, rhizomatic, protean, “all-of-the-above” poems. And this fact alone has given me tremendous permissions in my own approach to writing. I’m not trying to make my work into something that stays put after it’s placed on the page. I want to make work that feels like a living organism, the way Maureen’s poems do. Instead of the poem (or lyric essay, or hybrid form) as art object, I want to learn how to make the most porous and anti-static kinds of creations. If the poem is likened to a painting on the wall—vivid and imagistic—let it also be a painting where the eyes move, where the frame slants, where it is never the same painting twice that the viewer looks upon.

I often talk to my students about entering their own writing “through the smallest door,” and sometimes the smallest door is a single word. I like to get as close as I can to individual words, and Maureen’s poems bless and press that enterprise further. One whole stanza from “The Realm of the Wide” consists of: “The word: Outlandish.” And what a word! I love the invitation to stare at the word, to see the “out” and the “land” and the “dish” in it just by lingering in that long pause. I’ve never asked Maureen if she is synesthetic, but her poems are, and as a synesthete who experiences the world of language in vivid colors, Maureen’s poetry amplifies my synesthetic experience of the world as well, adds another tier/floor/skylight. “You could jump the fire and ride to where the words are backdrafting,” she writes. How visceral and invigorating and absolutely true!

Finally, I think it’s Maureen’s own biomythography she’s drafting and revising and reimagining across these pages. (I hope Audre Lorde wouldn’t mind my invoking her term here, as I know Maureen and I both deeply admire and write as grateful readers of Lorde.) Maureen’s poems resist stasis because she has resisted stasis—staying put in any one role, category, or geographical location. Maureen is candid about falling into and out of love, marriage, divorce, sexual awakenings, motherhood, faith, doubt, and always, the complexities, dare I say “the inherent mysteries,” of gender, desire, and the body. There is much in her life’s reckoning and recurring themes that overlap with my own. In another salient capsule of experience that seems to denote the way she was raised, Maureen writes, “Everything/ should be Disney or saintly.” That was my first imperative, too. With every poem and hybrid form, Maureen is teaching me how to write my way beyond those initial strictures of conventional beauty, contrived happiness, and religious dogma.

Black: What are you working on now?

Wade: On the prose front, I’m writing essays for a collection called “The Regulars,” which is another slant on my own bildungsroman. At a certain point in time, I realized that I have stories I tell and stories I write, and it occurred to me that some of the stories I tell—which are often the most absurd glimpses of my childhood, darkly humorous but also intimidatingly sad—might have another kind of life on the page. The title is a reference, in the most literal sense, to being regular customers at the Old Spaghetti Factory every Sunday, my parents and I, but also to the relentless quest for normalcy—or at least to be perceived as normal and consequently likable, admirable, and good—that governed my upbringing. (“Everything/ should be Disney or saintly” indeed!) Angie, my spouse, suggested the title, which I love, and so I’ve been writing my way into some of my own personal oral tradition, the stories I have only shared with close friends who say, “Tell us about the time you had to …” or “What was it your parents did when …”

On the poetry front, I’m writing a lot of secular psalms for a sequence that I think will belong, eventually, to a collection called Quick Change Artist. That project might also subsume some or all of the poems from When I Was Straight, which illustrates the before-and-after experiences of someone, essentially the same someone, who was first perceived as heterosexual and trying very hard to tow many tacit heterosexual lines, and then who, in the second half of the project, reckons with all the new ways people respond to her as an out lesbian, a woman marked by sexual difference.

There’s also a hybrid-form memoir about food that I’ve been toying with for years called The Western Family. (I grew up on the West Coast, and the brand of most of the food products we ate in our home was “Western Family.” Food as source of pleasure, shame, ritual, family connectedness and family discord, and food as marker of a particular zeitgeist is something I intend to explore.) And eventually, I plan to write a collection of poems that mirrors the question-and-answer clues on Jeopardy!, the game show that seems to have played ceaselessly at the dinner table throughout my youth and is now playing throughout my adulthood, recording daily on our DVR, in fact!

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Maureen Seaton received her MFA at Vermont College and is the author of nine poetry collections and a memoir, Sex Talks to Girls among many other projects. Her work has notably appeared in Best Small Fictions and Best American Poetry among many other places. Seaton has received multiple awards and recognitions for her work. Among them, several Lambda awards, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Iowa Poetry Prize. Her most recent collection, Fisher was published by Black Lawrence Press in 2018. Seaton is Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Miami, Florida.

Julie Marie Wade is the author of ten collections of poetry and prose, including Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures, Small Fires: Essays, Postage Due: Poems & Prose Poems, When I Was Straight, Catechism: A Love Story, SIX, Same-Sexy Marriage: A Novella in Poems, and the forthcoming The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose, co-authored with Denise Duhamel. She is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Florida International University in Miami.

Links to the good stuff:

Seaton at Black Lawrence Press

Seaton’s Newest Collection, Fisher

The Rumpus Interviews Maureen Seaton

Seaton at Lambda Literary

Julie Marie Wade’s Website

Julie Marie Wade at The Academy of American Poets

Julie Marie Wade at Tupelo Quarterly

Wade’s When I was Straight

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Anna Black has served as the editor-in-chief of the magazines Hayden’s Ferry Review and Inkspeak, and is a twice awarded Virginia G. Piper global teaching and research fellow. She received her MFA at Arizona State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter, edited by poet Andrea Gibson and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, SWWIM, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. She has taught composition, creative writing, and/or publishing at Arizona State University, Western Washington University, Perryville Women’s Prison, and the National University of Singapore.

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Call for Submissions: Authors of Out-of-Print Books

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At Doubleback Books, we believe that out of print should not mean out of mind. Although other publishers rescue works that have fallen into the public domain from obscurity, few reprint books from small, independent presses that have folded during the twenty-first century and (often through no fault of their own) left new, exciting books to go out of print before their time.

If you are the author of a book that has recently gone out of print because the press closed, we want to read it. We are hosting an open reading period through August 2018.  Authors of works that have gone out of print due to the closure of the original press may submit full-length or short books, including novels, novellas, chapbooks, short story collections, poetry collections, essay collections, and memoirs. Editors may also submit out of print manuscripts their presses published before closing. To be eligible, works must have been both published and out of print after 2000.

Accepted manuscripts will be released as free downloadable e-books on the Sundress Publications website. Previous titles include Karyna McGlynn’s Alabama SteveJehanne Dubrow’s The Hardship Post, and Virginia Chase Sutton’s What Brings You to Del Amo (forthcoming).

To submit, email the following to doubleback@sundresspublications.com:

  • Your manuscript(s) in .PDF or .DOC format
  • A brief cover letter in the body of the email telling us a little bit about your work and yourself, and noting the genre of the manuscript
  • The name of the manuscript’s original publisher
  • The name and contact information of the publisher’s former editor-in-chief, if available.

Please note: we do not republish translated work or previously self-published work.  

Doubleback Books is an imprint of Sundress Publications. More information at http://www.sundresspublications.com/doubleback

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Passing Through Humansville Now Available for Pre-Order!

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Karen Craigo’s Passing Through Humansville Now Available for Pre-Order

Sundress Publications is excited to announce Karen Craigo’s new full-length poetry collection Passing Through Humansville is available for pre-order.

Humansville

Tania Runyan, author of What Will Soon Take Place had this to say about Craigo’s book:

“I’ve been reading Passing Through Humansville during a time of despair, and they are among the few written words that have comforted me. Emboldened me. Spoken. These poems explore marriage and family, nature and politics, and faith and doubt from a wellspring of compassionate wisdom and grace—a still, small (but not timid) voice of a life lived and loved with intention. ‘There are so many / ways to move across Earth’s face and I / would just as gladly move or sit with you,’ Craigo writes. I feel the same way about this book, it’s a companion whose side I won’t leave for long.

Other advance readers include Sarah Freligh, author of Sad Math, who said:

“In Passing Through Humansville, Karen Craigo is the best kind of tour guide—wise, tender, funny and keenly observant of the moments life serves up however large or small. Who among us cannot identify with the weary speaker in “Advent” who finds herself siding with the innkeeper who turned away Mary and Joseph: ‘Damn / but a hard day’s work / should earn us a little rest, / not crisis after crisis.’ I don’t know of another poet who is able to balance feminism, faith, and motherhood as deftly as Craigo does in these poems. These are wonderful meditations on the fierceness of love and the meaning of the word “humankind.”

karencraigoKaren Craigo is the author of two Sundress Publications titles, No More Milk (2016) and Passing Through Humansville (2018). She is also the author of Escaped Housewife Tries Hard to Blend In (forthcoming from Tolson Books, 2018), and three chapbooks. She is the editor of a weekly newspaper, The Marshfield (Missouri) Mail, and she maintains Better View of the Moon, a blog on writing and creativity. She lives in Springfield, Missouri.

Pre-order your copy here: https://squareup.com/market/sundress-publications/item/passing-through-humansville-by-karen-craigo-pre-order

 

 

 

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Lyric Essentials: Emma Trelles Reads Three Poems by Ada Limón

Poet Emma Trelles, author of Tropicalia (Notre Dame, 2011), came to chat about the extraordinary work of Ada Limón. We talked about horses, chaos, and the importance of Latinx poetry.

Black: Limón’s work impacts a lot of people and as a result, she enjoys well-earned success. What is in her work that you are particularly drawn to?

Trelles: There’s so much I admire about her work. She is a master of cadence in that she knows precisely where to expand and contract her lines to create a voice that reads to me instead of the other way around. I think it might be easy to miss this aspect of craft in her poems because the sound of them is deeply engaging, like having a conversation with a confidante. But it takes a lot of effort to create that ease and she renders this armature invisible. I’m also drawn to how her poems are both joyous and melancholy at once as if she is celebrating the experience of life instead of simply its victories. “In the Country of Resurrection” comes to mind; she begins with the mercy killing of a possum on a dark road and ends with a gush of morning light in the kitchen. In seven couplets, a shape that echoes this duality, she moves us through despair, and in the final two she speaks to the decisiveness, the choice, it takes to move forward. Her poems are survivors, and the ability to endure inspires me as an artist and a human every time I’m bludgeoned with another slab of bad news. We must continue.

 

Black: Horses are a recurring theme throughout the book, and we see it again here in “Downhearted.” This theme really hit home for many readers. Do you connect with it, also? And if so, why? Where does it take you?

Trelles: That’s interesting—I hadn’t thought about horses as a theme but more of how they fit into the prominence of the natural world in these poems. A terrible accident kills six horses in the first line of “Downhearted,” and this tragedy sets off a meditation about how we manage or manufacture sorrow even as we long for “the blood to return…the thrill and wind of the ride.” From beginning to end, this book houses creatures, landscapes, flora, the pleasures and failures of the body—they all are themselves, of course, but they also serve as fleshy signposts that point her, and us, toward ourselves and something bigger than ourselves. Namely, how we try and find meaning in chaos and how that process sustains us.

Black: Limón moves into prose poems off and on throughout the collection and we see it here in “The Quiet Machine.” What do you see as the purpose for this movement? How does this play with the other forms in the collection?

Trelles: I’ve thought a lot about how “The Quiet Machine” feels like an ars poetica to me and, now, looking at the other prose poems, I’m starting to suspect they all address writing in a way, or at least the feeling of making, and how that arrives through whir or stillness or somewhere in between. To me these poems serve as a deep pause; they slow down the hearty gallop of the book (which is astonishing for a collection of poems!) in a way that amplifies intimacy. Some of these poems felt like reading the pages of a secret notebook … 

Black: Do these connect in some way to or intersect with your own work?

Trelles: Oh yeah; my own writing also teems with trees and birds, sky and water. I’ve always been a great watcher of the natural world and my first book, Tropicalia, explores how the subtropics intersect with the built environments of South Florida and what it means to live in the midst of that thicket of concrete and lushness. I also connect to Ada Limón’s work because we are both Latinx writers who do not necessarily address our heritage in the ways that have come to be expected of us, such as through the lenses of ancestry or immigration, for example. I love reading those poems and greatly value the work of poets who write within this framework.

Perhaps now more than ever, Latinx poems are crucial to humanizing a population who is currently being criminalized in our country for no other reason than where we come from. With 57 million of us in the US, I’d also like to think there are lots of different ways to live and write as a Latinx poet, and these poems are important too because they show how we are not a monolith; our experiences are nuanced and singular and so is our creative work.

 

Black: Will you tell us about your work both completed and any current projects you’re working on?

Trelles: Well, it’s been a while since Tropicalia, won the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize and was put out by the good folks at the University of Notre Dame Press. Since then, I moved to California and now program the Mission Poetry Series here in Santa Barbara. I’ve worked on a number of projects with Letras Latinas, most recently as an editor for its contribution to the Poetry Coalition, a national coalition of more than 20 organizations that promote the value poets bring to our culture and communities. I’ve been writing and publishing poems and hope to finish a working draft of my next manuscript by the end of this summer. There—’ve said it in print and now I’m beholden! I’ve also been collaborating with Alexandra Lytton Regalado on a series of poems inspired in part by the work and lives of women artists. In fact, I owe her an envoi and that’s the very next thing I’ll write.

Black: Thank you, Emma, for sitting down with me. And I’ll be hoping for that next collection, I can’t believe you committed to that in writing!

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Ada Limón is the author of five books of poetry, including Bright Dead Things, which was named a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry, a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, a finalist for the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award, and one of the Top Ten Poetry Books of the Year by The New York Times. Her other books include Lucky WreckThis Big Fake World, and Sharks in the Rivers. She serves on the faculty of Queens University of Charlotte Low Residency M.F.A program, and the 24Pearl Street online program for the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. She also works as a freelance writer in Lexington, Kentucky. Her new collection, The Carrying, will be released by Milkweed Editions in August of 2018. (Bio is from the author’s website.)

Emma Trelles is the daughter of Cuban immigrants and the author of Tropicalia (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011), winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, a finalist for Foreword/Indies poetry book of the year, and a recommended read by The Rumpus. Her work has been anthologized in Best American Poetry, Best of the Net, Verse DailyPolitical Punch: Contemporary Poems on the Politics of Identity and others.  Recent poems appear in The Miami RailZócalo Public Square,and SWWIM.  A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, she lives with her husband in California, where she teaches at Santa Barbara City College and programs the Mission Poetry Series.

Links to the good stuff:

Limón’s Website

Limón at Compose Journal

Bright Dead Things at Milkweed

Limón at The Poetry Foundation

Trelles on SWWIM

Trelles at Zócalo

Trelles at Best American Poetry

Trelles’ Tropicalia at NDP

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Anna Black has served as the editor-in-chief of the magazines Hayden’s Ferry Review and Inkspeak, and is a twice awarded Virginia G. Piper global teaching and research fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, the American Journal of Poetry, SWWIM, and New Mobility among others. She was awarded her MFA at Arizona State University and has taught composition, creative writing, and/or publishing at Arizona State University, Western Washington University, Perryville Women’s Prison, and the National University of Singapore.

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Interview with Rodney Gomez, Author of Citizens of the Mausoleum

 

Sundress Publications: The first poem in this collection begins with a quote from the Los Angeles Times, and several later poems also draw from newspaper articles. How did you make this decision? How do you see your work as a poet connected to, and interacting with, the work of a journalist?

Rodney Gomez: Well I think that poetry can and should serve as witness, especially for marginalized communities. I believe it’s a powerful way to document narratives that might otherwise go untold. So some of what you see in the book with reference to news articles is an attempt at preservation of some narratives that might not otherwise survive, or even be told at all. I don’t see this work as similar to journalism, however, because I am creating the story. I am not really telling the story. On the contrary, I am telling a story—the one that the poet hears and is then inscribing on the page. I can’t replicate, but only propagate, the narrative. Therefore, I felt that with these poems there was a need to point the reader to the actual news. In another sense, by drawing from news stories I am doing a very basic job—giving the reader some context that might be helpful to understand what is going on in the poem. In some cases, understanding might be necessary (“Checkpoint Aubade”). In others (“Zuihitsu of the Mesquite Virgin”) it’s helpful but not essential. I am indebted to other writers who uncover new realities. These shape my consciousness, and the poems themselves are also forms of gratitude. I see this relationship as parallel to an ekphrastic one, where another work of art serves as the impetus for my own poem-making.

SP: Your poem “Love” is so funny because it has this perfect twist at the end. It’s also notable because it’s a one-sentence, two-page monologue. Can you say a little about your process writing it?

RG: So “Love” actually arrived in the world pretty full-formed. There are autobiographical elements in it and the part about my friend and his girlfriend stem from an actual conversation, and so the style of the poem mimics that. It started off with a lot of conceptual leap-frogging and refusals to stop the freewheeling of imagination. I tried to focus the theme in subsequent drafts but I wanted to let the speaker’s point of view roam freely. It’s a bit neurotic, too, and I wanted to give the sense that you are hearing a monologue spoken on a therapist’s couch, but there’s a lot of room for empathy there.

 

SP: I feel like, in my own writing, I tend to do the same thing over and over again: the speaker’s voice is always my own voice, and I am usually writing about relationships. I can’t tell if this is just who I am, and that I should accept it, or if I need to push myself to experiment more. Reading through this collection, I’m so struck by the variety in form and tone. Is this something that comes naturally to you? My question is mostly one of admiration: how do you do it??

RG: Well I don’t like to be bored. I like surprises. I like to be delighted. I read so many collections that seem to operate exactly how you describe your own writing—the same voice, the same concerns, and the same way of telling the same stories or discovering the same concepts. So part of the reason for the variety in the book is a willingness to have fun. I have no allegiance to a particular conceptual framework or theoretical approach, so each poem starts anew.

On the other hand, I think development of a singular voice is not easy, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing that your writing has a unity of voice. The voice you hear may be your own, or it may not. I would only consider the situation problematic if there were some lack of authenticity there. Is there something missing? Some people never find their voice, and this may be what you see going on in the collection. Maybe there are many voices because I haven’t found a voice. I might want to say that. Or I might want to say, instead, that I’ve developed a better ear for how a poem wants to develop than I had when I first seriously started writing poetry. So variety may be a consequence of developing the ear, or empathy. And the empathy is directed toward the poem—its concerns, its speakers, and its language.

SP: You have another book, Baedeker from the Persistent Refuge, coming out next year. Congratulations! Are you working on a new project now?

RG: Thank you. So yes, Baedeker will be out in February, I think, from YesYes. That’s the plan. That collection is about identity and the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. It’s a much more place-based book, a book about subverting conventions when it comes to Chicanxdad. I am working seriously on a third book right now, too, which is roughly based on the way we react to and make sense of acts of violence. It’s a horrible book in that it is depressing to write and really drains me, but I think it’s a book it is necessary for me to write. At this moment I am working on the one of centers of the book, a series of poems based on the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, which is a series of dollhouse dioramas created by Frances Glessner Lee to assist criminal investigators in their training. The scenes are ghastly — for example, one of them shows a bloody crib with a trail of blood leading out to the hallway from a child’s room. That book is a sister collection to Citizens and you can see some of the same concerns already in the first book. I’m not sure, ultimately, what kind of conceptual orientation the new collection will have. I only know that I have a rough operating theme and have certain contours of it in mind.

Citizens of the Mausoleum is available for sale at the Sundress store.

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Rodney Gomez is the author of Citizens of the Mausoleum (Sundress Publications, 2018), Baedeker from the Persistent Refuge (YesYes Books, 2019), and several chapbooks. He is the recipient of the Drinking Gourd Prize from Northwestern University and the Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize. His work appears in Poetry, Poetry Northwest, North American Review, The Gettysburg Review, Blackbird, Pleiades, Denver Quarterly, Puerto del Sol, Verse Daily, and other journals and anthologies. A proud member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop and the Chocholichex writing collective, he is also an editor at Latino Book Review and works at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

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Sundress Academy for the Arts Seeks Readers for Award-Winning Sundress Reading Series

safta logoSundress Academy for the Arts Seeks Readers
for Award-Winning Sundress Reading Series

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) would like to invite writers to read as part of their 2018 – 2019 reading series. Since 2013, SAFTA has hosted poets and prose writers as part of their award-winning Sundress Reading Series in the heart of Knoxville, TN, just miles from the Great Smoky Mountains. An extension of Sundress Publications and the Sundress Academy for the Arts, the Sundress Reading Series features nationally recognized writers in all genres from around the US while also supporting local and regional nonprofits. The deadline to apply is June 15, 2018.

We are currently curating our fall and spring reading series schedule. Our readings take place monthly on Sundays at 2PM at Hexagon Brewing Company. To apply to be a reader, please send 6-8 pages of poetry or 8-15 pages of prose, a 100-word bio, and CV in the body of an email to Erin Elizabeth Smith at erin@sundresspublications.com.

We will make every effort possible to contact those chosen by July 15, 2018. While we are currently unable to pay our readers, authors are given a discount on future SAFTA residencies and are encouraged to sell their own books and merchandise at the event.

Find our more or to view some of our past readers and schedules, visit us at www.sundressacademyforthearts.com.

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The Sundress Reading Series presents Chris Barton, Gwen E. Kirby, and Pamela Schoenewaldt on May 6

The Sundress Reading Series is excited to welcome Chris Barton, Gwen E. Kirby, and Pamela Schoenewaldt to the May installment of our reading series! The event will take place 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, May 6, at Hexagon Brewing Co., located at 1002 Dutch Valley Dr. STE 101, Knoxville, TN 37918. The Sundress Reading Series is free and open to the public.

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Chris Barton‘s work has appeared in Hobart, Entropy, Word Riot, Funhouse, Potluck Mag, and elsewhere. He was the winner of the 2013 undergraduate creative writing award from the University of Tennessee. He currently works at two cafes, helps with his roommate’s monthly open mic poetry event, & lives in a blue house with three cats in Knoxville, TN.

 

 

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Gwen E. Kirby‘s stories appear in One Story, Guernica, Mississippi Review, Ninth Letter, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Guest editor Aimee Bender selected her story “Shit Cassandra Saw . . .” for Best Small Fictions 2018 and her story “Midwestern Girl Is Tired of Appearing in Your Short Stories” won the 2017 DISQUIET Literary Prize for Fiction. She received her MFA from Johns Hopkins University and her PhD from the University of Cincinnati. Starting in the fall, she will be the 2018-2019 George Bennett Fellow at Phillips Exeter Academy.

 

PamelaPamela Schoenewaldt is a historical novelist and a USA Today Bestseller whose work has been translated into four languages. She was short-listed for the Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction. Her short stories have won international awards. She was the UT Library’s Writer in Residence and is in the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. Her one-act play in Italian, Espresso Con Mia Madre, was performed in Naples, Italy. She taught writing at the University of Maryland European Division, and UT. She lives in Knoxville with her husband, Maurizio Conti, a physicist, and dog Jesse, a philosopher. Her most recently completed novel is set against the backdrop of the 1919 Knoxville Race Riot.

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Felicia Zamora reads from House A by Jennifer S. Cheng

Felicia Zamora is the author of three books of poetry and two chapbooks, but more than that, she is an incredible supporter and champion of the works of other writers in a way that makes her an astonishing ally and a valued friend. On poetry she is well-read and searingly intelligent. So of course, I asked her to read for us here at LE and I was excited to see who she would choose to share.

Zamora chose Jennifer S. Cheng’s book House A (Omnidawn) and read three poems for us from this gorgeous book, evidencing her incredible generosity.

Black: What a great choice. What made you choose Jennifer S. Cheng to share with us?

Zamora: Cheng writes, “children experience memories as image and sound, which is to say they experience them as poetry.” Here is a book that builds poetry, history, memory, and home—inside each page, each utterance of longing.

House A is one of those books I ordered because I am a fan of Omnidawn Publishing and appreciate the new voices they bring to the conversation from new and emerging poets. Reading other women poets of color is important to my own writing as I am fueled by the experiences and worlds being created by these poets. These are necessary voices. Voices we all must hear. I was only a few poems into Cheng’s epistolary “Dear Mao” sequence and I was thinking, “Wow, I wish I had written this” which is my telltale sign that I love a book.

Cheng weaves intricate images that make a reader fall into these letters of searching. In “Letters to Mao” she writes, “Lost: the dark / spot inside my mother’s throat. Lost: house inside my seams.” Home is in the flesh. Home is in the history of family and culture. Home is in “the dark silhouette of my mother’s hair” and how her father taught her “to listen to the inside of a seashell.”

Black: Is the entire book in epistolary form?

Zamora: The book comprises of three sections with only the first section comprising of epistolary poems. In the middle and third sections, Cheng explores how one studies and organizes memory and place. She asks the reader to consider how one creates a home from scratch. She never loses sight of the act of building home in all its bodily and worldly means.

In the second section, “House A; Geometry B”, she writes:

“…the body of articulation occurs through

a house…

let us iterate it until it is its own

baseline. dislocation a house. longing as

location.”

This is transcendent work that Cheng accomplishes throughout these pages. She requires readers to rethink how we conceive of “home.” We enter into the journey of searching, not just by language, but by the universal language of mathematics, or ‘geometry’, and through the construction of voice and images, that keeps swimming back to how one makes sense of rootedness and a lack of rootedness.

Again in “House A; Geometry B” she writes:

“the body of a house:

sleeping fossil

geometric shell”

Black: Claudia Rankine said of the book, “Not since Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family and Calvino’s invisible Cities have I encountered such attention to the construction of love and love’s capacity to transform unimagined locations.” And I’m intrigued by the locations she talks of. Can you speak a little bit to the idea of place in Cheng’s work?

Zamora: It is through loss that the voice finds home in the everyday moments, finds place as something she can stow away into memory and carry with her. These are hard and beautiful poems born of necessity. Poems of a life in question of place. How do place and life come together? How does place etch inside us, leaving its mark? Cheng demonstrates how a body in longing plucks what it must, creates out from love new definitions of place.

She writes:

“…home is a narrative we are both familiar/with…

So that ours was always a story of leaving and never an/

anchoring of place.”

As a reader, Cheng builds micro worlds in each poem in which readers are allowed to swim in and contemplate space and place. She creates a fluidity in both her ideas and her language. This book acts as history, like the water in our bodies, it stays with a person into memory.

In “Letters to Mao” she writes:

“Dear Mao,

I hope you understand that what I am doing is trying to give you a history

of water, which, like memory and sleep, is fluid and wafting in refracted

light. History as water, so that I am giving you something that spreads.”

In many ways, these prose blocks transport and mimic the theme of the book: how home becomes that which we carry inside. How, “Such residue, the way a ghost becomes a blueprint.” There are historical vestiges of place inside those who long.

“Dear Mao,

Phantom limb.

Cheng explores how displacement transforms a person, beyond a diasporic hunger of place, and the how the mind creates the necessary places for survival and love, in a world within us. However, even in the creation of, the voice is still haunted by history and absence; these ghosts in linger.

She says to Mao:

“…You were dust in my house. A

shadow underneath the floorboards.”

Black: What do you want to be certain a reader notices in this work?

Zamora: This is complex work: to unravel time and place in search of meaning in the journey of diasporic history, to speak of “the watery life of home” that goes beyond what Cheng says, “the ambiguity of homeland” that one does not possess in their own memory, for those memories belong to someone else. Connectivity to geography is that of spinning globes, tidewater, and ceramic horses.

She writes:

“…For homeland is something embalmed

in someone else’s memory, or it is a symbol, both close the heart

and a stranger you reach for in the middle of the night.”

Black: Do you see connections between either the poet and yourself or her work and your own?

Zamora: In House A, Cheng uses the form of prose poetry in the first section of the book to explore an intricate weaving of thoughts in compiled letters to Mao. The language in these poems combine narrative and lyric in electrifying and transformative ways, as well as the necessity of the experience being written for the reader to share. She writes, “If I could take a shadow and sew it to another until it formed a roof above my head.” This building of images, I mean, wow; this is world-building.

I’ve been drawn to the prose and prose-ish poem in my own poetry, because of the work the form requires of a writer: intimate attention to both the line and the sentence in simultaneity, and the poet must consider the role of each of these elements and how they function cohesively in the poem.

I also connect with Cheng’s work because she attends to the missing, the absent, the hole so authentically and with such necessity. She weaves the intricate fibers of language in these poems, and strums. My history was also shaped in absence and a different kind of displacement, so Cheng’s poems idea of home speaks to me and how home resides more inside my body than outside.

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Felicia Zamora’s books include Of Form & Gather, winner of the 2016 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize (University of Notre Dame 2017), & in Open, Marvel (Parlor Press 2017), and Instrument of Gaps(Slope Editions 2018). She won the 2015Tomaž Šalamun Prize (Verse), authored two chapbooks, and was the 2017 Poet Laureate of Fort Collins, CO. Her poetry is found in Alaska Quarterly Review,Crazyhorse,Indiana Review, jubilat, Meridian, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, West Branch, and others. She is an associate poetry editor for the Colorado Reviewand is the Education Programs Coordinator for the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

Jennifer S. Cheng received her BA from Brown University, MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa, and MFA in Poetry from San Francisco State University. She is the author of MOON: Letters, Maps, Poems, selected by Bhanu Kapil as winner of the Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize (May 2018), HOUSE A, selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the Omnidawn Poetry Book Prize, and Invocation: An Essay (New Michigan Press), a chapbook in which fragments of text, photographs, found images, and white space influence one another to create meaning. A U.S. Fulbright scholar, Kundiman fellow, and Bread Loaf work-study scholar, she is the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Harold Taylor Award, the Ann Fields Poetry Award, the Mid-American Review Fineline Prize, and multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her poetry and lyric essays appear in Tin House, AGNI, Conjunctions, Black Warrior Review, The Normal School, DIAGRAM, The Volta, The Offing, Sonora Review, Seneca Review, Hong Kong 20/20 (a PEN HK anthology), and elsewhere. Having grown up in Texas, Hong Kong, and Connecticut, she currently lives in rapture of the coastal prairies of northern California. (Bio is from JSC’s website.)

Links to some good stuff:

Jennifer S. Cheng’s Website

Jennifer S. Cheng at Entropy Mag

From the Voice of a Lady in the Moon, a poem by JSC

Felicia Zamora’s Website

Zamora’s Poetry at Poetry Northwest

Anna Lys Black is the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a Virginia G. Piper global fellow, a graduate excellence awardee, and mere weeks from completion of her MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others.

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Steven Sanchez’s Phantom Tongue Now Available for Preorder

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Sundress Publications is pleased to announce that Steven Sanchez’s full-length poetry collection, Phantom Tongue, is now available for preorder at the Sundress store.

Phantom Tongue explores identity, homosexuality, heritage, and language. Written with vibrant detail and surgically precise word choice, the poems in the collection navigate through the construction of a person’s identity by various experiences and circumstances. Some poems are about the narrator’s Mexican heritage and the confliction of not being able to understand the language of his parents and relatives. Others show the struggle to come to terms with sexuality in the context of heritage and religion and the expectations of male gender roles. And others interact with the larger societal struggles looming around the narrator’s struggle, such as a poem about the Orlando nightclub shooting. Phantom Tongue presents the danger of love, the bittersweet beauty of loss, and the power of human striving, often encapsulated by some form of expression—artistic, linguistic, romantic, or otherwise.

Rigoberto González, author and book critic, said of Phantom Tongue:

“Exiled from the cultural language of his Mexican ancestors, longing for the private discourse of queer desire, the young speaker in Steven Sanchez’s Phantom Tongue imagines—and then inhabits—a wondrous space where expression is tactile, intuitive, and intimate. What a heartfelt debut and a wound-healing testament to the fragile but resilient body, its whispered stories.”

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Steven Sanchez is the author of Phantom Tongue (Sundress Publications, 2018), selected by Mark Doty as the winner of Marsh Hawk Press’ Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award. A recipient of fellowships from CantoMundo and the Lambda Literary Foundation, his poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Nimrod, Muzzle, Tahoma Literary Review, Crab Creek Review, Glass: a Journal of Poetry, and other publications.

Order your copy today at the Sundress store!

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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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