Strange Attractors

This post isn’t about the strange attractors you hear of in chaos theory; rather, it’s about an excellent poetry anthology edited by Sarah Glaz and Joanne Growney. I’ve linked to Joanne’s blog, Intersections, before. After showing it to my school’s librarian, she ordered a copy of Strange Attractors, and it arrived a few days ago.

I haven’t had chance to really delve into it, but it looks wonderful. Glaz and Growney have selected poems from the beginning of recorded history up to the present. What holds it all together is their subject matter: love. Yes, mathematicians are susceptible to it, and these poems are ample illustration of the many ways math and poetry complement each other in expressing that emotion.

Most of the poets use plain words to get their point across, but there are several clever exceptions. I especially like this one by Kaz Maslanka, entitled “Sacrifice and Bliss”:

 

 

It reminds me of a Tolstoy quote I have in my classroom: “A man is like a fraction whose numerator is what he is, and whose denominator is what he thinks of himself. The larger the denominator, the smaller the fraction.”

Anyway, even if you’ve forgotten most of the math you learned in high school, you’ll find plenty of wonderful poetry to enjoy in this anthology. If you love math, you’ll derive (!) even more pleasure from it. If you teach math, Strange Attractors will be an invaluable resource for you and your students.

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Poetry, Ghosts, & Geometry

Readers of this blog know that I enjoy a good poem. In an earlier post, I recommended an entertaining collection by the French poet Guillevic, Geometries. In another, I shared a hilarious poem by R. S. Gwynn about teaching, The Classroom at the Mall. At the bottom of this blog’s home page is a link to Intersections, an excellent blog devoted entirely to poetry and mathematics.

For several years, Georganne Harmon taught English and Creative Writing at my school, and she has recently published a collection of her poems entitled We Will Have Ghosts. It is wonderful, and I’ve kept a copy by my reading chair for several months. I’ve been savoring it in small amounts, like a fine, single-malt whisky.

It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite, but you can read one of her best at this page in Chapter 16. Here’s another favorite of mine that uses terms from geometry to ponder the effects of distance:

Geometry, Lost Cove

The ridge across this cove
is straight as a ruled line,
its bend as pure as an angle
on a student’s quadrilled page.
Beyond it another ridge lies
straight-backed, as well,
drawn off by its touch with sky.

Such perfection is a subject
I’d like to think about
here on this thin shelf of land:
the earth, for instance, seen
from an orbiting craft,
is smooth and round –
an eyeball, a gem on black cloth.
Where is the rough rooty skin of it
we know, the jagged heights of pine,
poplar, sycamore, oak?
Where are our lumpy villages,
the brutish smoke of wars,
the unsmooth teem
of ant life in its scurry?

At a distance, surface is easy truth:
latitudes and longitudes, altitudes,
and lines acute, obtuse.
A mountain trail is straight as shot,
a slight incline from the east,
a thirty-degree descent
on the other face.

A hurricane is a cotton-swirled disturbance
on a blue plate; yet underneath it
secreted on another plane,
pain rises red and anger-pussed.
This limpid, lustrous earth.

With this design
I make up my face
for someone combed
and groomed into the angled,
elegant shape of vee,
leaning in an easy obtuse
against the far wall.

By the way, the cover art is “The Mower’s Song (for Andrew Marvell)” by Georganne’s brother, Paul Harmon. Those Harmon kids are talented!

You can purchase We Will Have Ghosts here. A portion of all sales goes to a charity to help young writers.

Guillevic’s Geometries

A neat little book of poetry that I ordered a few days ago arrived today: Guillevic’s Geometries. I found out about it from a post in one of my favorite math blogs, yofx. Guillevic’s poetry is playful, yet understated. Who knew simple Euclidean forms were so profound? Here’s a nice example:

Tangent

I will only touch you once.

And it will only be in passing.

 

No use calling me back,

No use reminding.

 

You will have plenty of time

To rehearse and remember

This moment,

 

To convince yourself

We’ll never part.

 

 

A Poem for Teachers Today

A change of pace, here. This is one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets, R. S. Gwynn. It’s very funny, in a mordant sense. As a teacher, I can often relate to the sense of absurdity and futility Gwynn describes here. ( A school being put where a bookstore went bankrupt!)

As far as I know, Gwynn’s book of selected poems is out of print. Get it used while you still can.

 

The Classroom At The Mall

R. S. Gwynn

Our Dean of Something thought it would be good

For Learning (even better for P. R.)

To make the school “accessible to all”

And leased the bankrupt bookstore at the mall

A few steps from Poquito’s Mexican Food

And Chocolate Chips Aweigh. So here we are –

 

Four housewives, several solemn student nurses,

Ms. Light – serious, heavy, very dark –

Pete Fontenot, who teaches high-school shop

And is besides a part-time private cop

Who leaves his holstered Glock among the purses,

And I, not quite as thin as Chaucer’s clerk –

 

Met for our final class while Season’s Greetings

Subliminally echo calls to buy

Whatever this year’s ads deem necessary

For Happiness and Joy. The Virgin Mary,

Set up outside to audit our last meetings,

Adores her infant with a glassy eye.

 

Descend, O Muzak! Hail to thee, World Lit!

Hail, Epic (“most of which was wrote in Greek”)

And hail three hours deep in Dante’s Hell

(The occupants of which no one could spell) –

As much as our tight schedule might admit

Of the Great Thoughts of Man – one thought per week.

 

I’ve lectured facing towards “The Esplanade”

Through plate-glass windows. Ah, what do I see?

Is that the face “that lunched a thousand ships”

Awash with pimples? Oh, those chocolate chips!

Ms. Light breaks in: “Will this be for a grade?”

It’s a good thing the students all face me.

 

One night near Halloween I filled the board

With notes on Faust. A Pentecostal hair-

Do (with a woman underneath) looked in,

Copying down my scrawl with a tight grin

That threatened she’d be back with a flaming sword

To corner me and Satan in our lair.

 

Tonight, though, all is calm. They take their quiz

While I sit calculating if I’ve made

Enough to shop for presents. From my chair

I watch the Christmas window-shoppers stare

At what must seem a novelty, and is,

This Church of Reason in the Stalls of Trade –

 

Like the blond twins who press against the door,

Accompanied by footsore, pregnant Mummy,

Who tiredly spells out for them the reason

I am not price-tagged as befits the season,

Explaining what is sold in such a store

With nothing but this animated dummy

 

Who rises, takes the papers one by one

With warm assurances that all shall pass

Because “requirements have been met,” because

I am an academic Santa Claus,

Because mild-mannered Pete’s strapped on his gun.

Ms. Light declares she has enjoyed the class:

 

“They sure had thoughts, those old guys,” she begins,

Then falters for the rest. And I agree

Because, for once, I’ve nothing left to say

And couldn’t put it better anyway.

I pack the tests, gather my grading pens,

And fumble in my jacket for the key,

 

With time to spend and promises to keep

And not one “hidden meaning” to the tale,

Among these drifting schools of moon-eyed teens,

License and credit bulging in their jeans,

Who circle, hungry for the choice and cheap –

Something of value, soon to go on sale