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Saturday, April 28, 2018

How Poetry and Math Intersect | Smithsonian

"Both require economy and precision—and each perspective can enhance the other" says
Artists and poets have long been inspired by the mathematical patterns found in nature—for instance, the remarkable fact that a sunflower’s seeds follow the Fibonacci sequence. But there are myriad other ways that the realms of poetry and mathematics can intersect.
April is both National Poetry Month and Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month, so a few years ago science writer Stephen Ornes dubbed it Math Poetry Month. If the words “math” and “poetry” don’t intuitively make sense to you as a pair, poet and mathematician JoAnne Growney’s blog Intersections—Poetry with Mathematics is a perfect place to start expanding your math-poetic horizons. The blog includes a broad range of poems with mathematical themes or built using mathematical rules. 
Take “Geometry,” by former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove:
I prove a theorem and the house expands:
the windows jerk free to hover near the ceiling,
the ceiling floats away with a sigh.

—from “Geometry” by Rita Dove
Or “In Praise of Fractals” by Emily Grosholz, published in The Stars of Earth: New and Selected Poems (2017, Word Galaxy Press):
Euclid’s geometry cannot describe,
nor Apollonius’, the shape of mountains,
puddles, clouds, peninsulas or trees.
Clouds are never spheres,
nor mountains cones, nor Ponderosa pines;
bark is not smooth; and where the land and sea
so variously lie about each other
and lightly kiss, is no hyperbola.

Compared with Euclid’s elementary forms,
Nature, loosening her hair, exhibits patterns
(sweetly disarrayed, afloat, uncombed)
not simply of a higher degree n
but rather of an altogether different
level of complexity:
the number of the scales of distances
describing her is almost infinite.

—from “In Praise of Fractals” by Emily Grosholz
Growney casts a wide net on her blog, which begins with the words: Mathematical language can heighten the imagery of a poem; mathematical structure can deepen its effect.” Some poems she features, like “Geometry,” use mathematical themes or images; some are by mathematicians or math students. Growney has also gotten interested in the mathematics of poetic forms and poetic forms that employ mathematics.

Of course, sonnets and haiku are famous for employing strict counts on lines and syllables. But she is also interested in newer forms, often inspired by the constrained writing exercises of the French Oulipo group, which was founded by mathematicians and poets. 

Source: Smithsonian