The Intersection Between Math and Poetry | Mallika Vasak's image
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The Intersection Between Math and Poetry | Mallika Vasak

KavishalaKavishala December 22, 2022
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April is designated National Poetry Month and Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month. Aware of their intersection, science writer Stephen Ornes named April “Math Poetry Month”. The two disciplines may seem dichotomous, so I wanted to illuminate their interrelation for those unaware of it.

I’ve found JoAnne Growney’s blog Intersections — Poetry with Mathematics is an excellent framework to augment your understanding of the math-poetics junction. It features both poems that use mathematical language to enrich their imagery and poems that are structured by mathematical concepts, many of which are written by mathematicians. All of the poems she includes in her blog are effective in highlighting how math can enhance poetry.

“Number Theory” by scientist-poet Mary Peelen emphasizes how mathematics underlies all facets of life:

Forty one apples in the tree,

red and round,

Praise awaiting gravity,

wholly free of abstraction.

When it comes to the primes and matters of religion,

I defer to Pythagoras,

his ancient cult and authority.

— from “Number Theory” by Mary Peelen

Growney also features poems that structured by mathematical concepts, such as “Though I survived the winter…” by mathematician Mike Keith. Keith writes in Pilish, a language in which the words used have lengths that align with the digits of Pi:

Growney’s motto written at the top of her blog reads, “Mathematical language can heighten the imagery of a poem; mathematical structure can deepen its effect”. In poems such as “Number Theory”, mathematical terms are used to enhance the poem’s imagery. In poems such as “Though I survived the winter…”, mathematical concepts are used to structure the poem. The mathematics of poetic forms is an art in itself.

Mathematics as a structure to poetry is further exemplified by other poetic forms. Sonnets and haikus are poetic forms that employ strict syllable and line counts. Sonnets, for example, are 14 lines in length and must be arranged into 3 stanzas of 4 lines, concluding with a two-line rhyming couplet. Each line must be 10 syllables long and satisfy the unstressed-stressed rhyming pattern. These rules are exercised in “Sonnet 130” by William Shakespeare:

Traditional Haikus are three lines long and total 17 syllables. The first line is 5 syllables, the second line is 7 syllables and the third line is 5 syllables. These rules are implemented in Matuso Basho’s “The Old Pond”:

An old silent pond…

A frog jumps into the pond,

splash! Silence again.

— from “The Old Pond” by Matuso Basho

These poetic forms are constrained by their rigid rules; they must satisfy the form’s rhythm and numerical structure. It is an art to master their writing.

The Fibonacci sequence is translated to poetry in a Fib poem, where the first line has one syllable, the second line has one syllable, the third line has two syllables, the fourth line has three syllables, and so on. This is employed in Athena Kildegaard’s Fibonacci Poems:




tongue and lips

like Fibnoacci’s

sequence, each movement a spiral,

enfold, unfold, a working through and against, again

— from “Fibonacci Poems” by Athena Kildegaard

This Article is written by Mallika Vasak and Originally shared on her Medium Blog.

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