Math and Verbal Gymnastics

We are coming to the end of Math Awareness Month, whose theme this year was The Future of Predictions. A clever theme name, indeed. I do love when mathematics and verbal gymnastics come together. And on that theme of math and words, you should know that April is not only math awareness month, but it’s also National Poetry Month! In honor of this double-whammy, I thought we could take a moment to explore the intersection of math and poetry.

As it turns out, there are actually quite a few blogs dedicated to poetry and mathematics. If you, like me, are a mathematician who is new to mathematical poetry, a good place to start is with “Five Types of Mathematical Poetry” on the blog Mathematical Poetry.

If the strictly lexical type of mathematical poetry is what you prefer — that is, mathematical poems constructed from the written word and influenced by ideas in math — then I suggest JoAnne Growney’s blog, Intersections — Poetry with Mathematics. In the theme of math awareness month, Growney posted a beautiful poem by Joyce Nower, inspired by prediction, fate, and the tragic story of the mathematician Hypatia.

Another type of mathematical poetry melds the written word with mathematical symbols, not necessarily following any mathematical rules. The late Bob Grumman, a pioneer in visual mathematical poetry, described it as “poetry that does mathematics, rather than merely discusses mathematics.” In a post on the Scientific American Guest Blog, Grumman discusses the state of the art form and the work of fellow visual poet Karl Kempton.

Magic Square By BabelStone - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Magic Square By BabelStone – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Pure mathematics can also be seen as poetry. The patterns and repetition in numerical and symbolic mathematics do echo those in traditional lexical poetry. To the right you can see a magic square, an ancient example of pure mathematical poetry.

In the spirit of poetry and math awareness, let me close with a terrible haiku that I just wrote in honor of the close of the semester.

reaching the limit
harmonic series diverge
and so too do we

Share your #mathematicalhaikus with me on Twitter @extremefriday.

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