Monday, March 3, 2014

DC poets of mathematics and science

Some remarks from JoAnne Growney

Nine years ago I moved to Silver Spring from small-town Pennsylvania.  My careful knowledge of particular poets in the Washington, DC area began to flourish more than twenty years earlier when -- as a professor of mathematics at a Pennsylvania university -- I began to notice and collect poems related to math and science. 

But, before more history, let me focus on a recent event.  On January 17, 2014, DC poets E. Laura Golberg, Katharine Merow, Myra Sklarew , and Mary-Sherman Willis joined me and other mathy poets in a "Reading of Poetry with Mathematics" at a national mathematics conference in Baltimore.  Despite this poetic proclamation from Archibald MacLeish:

          A poem should not mean . . .
those of us present at the reading -- focusing on poetry connected to the subject matter of mathematics -- felt the special magic generated when worlds collide. (The online free-access Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, sponsor of the reading, is a place to find an ongoing and increasing source of such integrated work.)

And now I return to the early history of my engagement with DC-area poets of mathematics and science: 
At a mathematics conference book exhibit around 1980 I found a copy of Against Infinity:  An Anthology of Contemporary Mathematical Poetry, edited by Ernest Robson and Jet Wimp (Primary Press, 1979).  This volume contained  two poems (“Algebra” and “Arithmetic Lesson: Infinity”) by Potomac, MD poet Linda Pastan -- and I not only loved these poems but also shared them with my students.

A few years later, Songs from Unsung Worlds (Birkhauser, 1985) appeared.  This collection of science-poems was collected by Bonnie Bilyeu Gordon -- a poet who back then lived in Chevy Chase, MD and who was an editor for Science85, a magazine sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Science.  Bilyeu’s anthology featured work by Pastan ("Waiting for E. Gularis") and from a number of other DC-area writers, including Ann Downer ("Koko"), Judy Bolz ("Migration as a Passage in Time"), Michael Collier ("Counting"), Laura Fargas ("The Island of Geological Time," "Rorschach," "Natural History"), Martin Galvin ("Doorman"), John Haines ("Little Cosmic Dust Poem"), David McAleavey ("Gate," "At the Scenic Drive-In"), and Myra Sklarew ("The Origin of Species,"Hieroglyphic").

One of the math-related works is Collier's poem about boys counting cattle; here is a stanza:

           from Counting     by Michael Collier

          The boys marvel at how the old ones
          never seem old enough to die,
          or how at dawn, light reveals
          infinity over the herd,
          as when wheat in a broad field moves
          with one grace of shadow and light.

In time, I too began anthologizing poetry --  working with Connecticut mathematician and poet Sarah Glaz, I co-edited Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics (AKPeters, 2008) and therein was included work of these DC-area poets:   Karren Alenier ("Dialectic of the Census Takers"),  Ray Bobo ("Give Me an Epsilon and I Will Treat It Well"), JoAnne Growney ("Floating, "My Dance Is Mathematics," "San Antonio, January, 1993"), Langston Hughes ("Addition [1]"), Deanna Nikaido ("July 18, 2005"), Michael Stueben ("Valentine"), and John Vieira ("The Lake Swan, the Tom").

I continue to gather math-related poems in my blog ("Intersections -- Poetry with Mathematics") and these DC-area writers each have had some of their poetry-with-math included therein; please click click on the names and enjoy samples of their work:

     Alenier, Karren
     Baechtel, Mark
     Banneker, Benjamin (1731-1806)
     Bobo, Ray
     Browning, Sarah
     Flusberg, Yael
     Geyer, Bernadette
     Growney, JoAnne
     Hughes, Langston (1902-1967)
     Jarvis, Jaime Lee
     Kalman, Dan
     Kaung, Kyi May
     Leithauser, Hailey
     Lewis, Israel (pen name of  Israel Lewis Schneider (1924-2011))
     MacLeish, Archibald (1892-1987)
     Masson, Veneta
     McCombs, Judith
     Moore, Miles David
     Nemerov, Howard  (1920-1991)
     Neri, Judy
     Pratt, Minnie Bruce

     Shankkar, Ravi
     Sklarew, Myra
     Tham, Hilary (1946-2005)
     Trethewey, Natasha
     Untermeyer, Louis (1885-1977)
     Vieira, John
     Winslow, Rosemary
     Woodworth, Anne

Biographies of poets from the Washington, DC area are being collected here
 All DC-area poets are invited -- in fact, urged -- to attend 
the upcoming meeting of A SPLENDID WAKE 
(a project to gather and preserve information about poets and poetry in the Washington DC area)
21 March 2014: 6:30-8:00 P.M., 
Gelman Library, George Washington University, 
Suite 702, 2130 H Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.  
Free and Open to the Public! 


  1. I really appreciate what JoAnne Growney brings to the Washington DC area literary community. Combining mathematics with poetry opens wide for new possibilities in form and audience.