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M@h*(pOet)?ica – Happy Holidays!


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Editor’s note (11/7/13): Find the entry point and new posts of Bob Grumman’s  M@h*(pOet)?ica at http://poeticks.com/

#StorySaturday is a Guest Blog weekend experiment in which we invite people to write about science in a different, unusual format – fiction, science fiction, lablit, personal story, fable, fairy tale, poetry, or comic strip. We hope you like it.

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This installment of my blog was supposed to be part two of my series on circles. Well, it will still be partly that, but it will mainly be devoted to Christmas—to begin with, featuring something both Christmassy and with a circle in it:

Wreath

Wreath

It’s from an ad at Wreaths Galore, a hayneedle store on the Internet. I hereby make it mathematical by telling you that the wreath in it is a circle with a radius exactly equal to:

Santas Elves

Santas Elves

Then there’s this circle-related piece by James Yeary, which I consider a Christmas haiku (but not mathexpressive):

Santas Helper

Santas Helper

The next work, my “Long Division of Christmas, No. 1,” which I made just for this blog, has no circles in it (unless you count the hidden one concerning the circle of seasons that the winter equinox ends and begins):

Christmas Poem for 2012

Christmas Poem for 2012

I hope the long division you have to do to understand this poem is fairly easy. I’ll just hint here that the snow is intended to be a particularly cheerful, playful sort of snow, a snow capable of making anything it multiplies, even mathematics, loosen up (although the mathematics here stays firm enough to provide a basis for the most mathematical of the arts, music—in this case, the opening bars of one of the themes of Johann Straus, Jr.’s Tales from the Vienna Woods, which I chose rather than something more clearly Christmas-related like a snippet from the glorious Alleluia Chorus of Handel’s Messiah to emphasize Christmas as a major holiday for everyone but the Grinch. I respect the day’s spiritual value, too, although I’m not a church-goer myself, but that’s a subject for another poem. Not the one following, though:

Christmas Mathemaku

Christmas Mathemaku

This second of the only two visiomathexpressive Christmas poems I’ve done I consider my Norman Rockwell poem. It’s based on a true-life experience! When I was a boy, my family lived in South Norwalk, Connecticut on a little piece of land that becomes an island at high tide called “Harbor View.” Our house was somewhere near the middle of Harbor View, higher by a few feet than any of the other forty or fifty houses there. To the children of the neighborhood, our slight slope was a hill–almost a mountain—to which bunches of us brought sleds whenever we had a decent snow. I and my sister had Flexible Flyers that had belonged to our two older brothers, both in their late teens by then. I was proud of mine, which I was sure was the fleetest sled around (“fleetest,” not “fastest” because I was then reading a lot of boys’ books from when Tom Swift and Gary Grayson debuted that my father had grown up with, and “fleet” and “swift” seemed to show up a lot in them).

The Grumbly kids, my sister’s friend Ellen, my brother Sherman’s confidant Liz who later married my brother Bill, and their brother Pat, just old enough to be a sort of uninvited big brother to Louise and me,* lived in the house across the dirt road that dead-ended a house further left (east) of the Grumblys. There were trees or high shrubbery making a dense wall across where the road ended with a basket on a pole for the games of Horse between Pat and Jimmy McLean. (Jimmy and his sister, Cindy, another friend of my sister’s, lived in the house on the other side of the hedge.)

My best friends at the time, Bruce and Graham Bailey, and Jimmy and Dickie Beatman, were nearly always among those whom snow drew to our “hill.” A little young to be a close friend of mine but often there, too, was Richard Horelick (whose name I may have wrong); Bobby Walsh was sometimes there, as well. Sorry for the self-indulgent details, but this paragraph, and the preceding one, are for the kids back then–my small way of thanking at least some of them for all the fun they helped me and Louise have.

I hope one comes away from my poem with some idea of it as an evocation of a scene near-universal in the childhoods of American children growing up in the forties, give or take sixty years (at least where real winter can occur)—and as a description of the memory of such a scene, which I suspect is also near-universal among the adults those children became.

More specific to my family alone is the poem’s description of Christmas, particularly the bit about “Mother and Dad,” for I picture mine almost all the time at home as quietly reading. And at home they almost always were when not at work, giving me, and—I’m sure—my sister and brothers, a wonderful sense of security we were not that often aware of. Although, I was probably more often aware of it than I should have been, always imagining bogey men trying to get through my bedroom window, or Japs** knocking at the door whenever anyone knocked, and so on.

As should be clear, I loved snow. Still do. Ironically, I moved to Southern California (North Hollywood, mainly) when 26 or 27, and 15 or so years later to my present home in central Florida, Port Charlotte, where I’ve lived since. I’ve only seen snow since for one period of a few days I spent visiting friends in Washington, D. C., when it had had one of its infrequent snowstorms. Most of it was melted.

I don’t think Christmas is possible without snow. At least not the secular kind of Christmas my poems are about. But I hope those of you reading this from a winterless state manage to have a wonderful Christmas, anyway!***

I have no more Christmas poems for you. But I do have some more circle-poems to put on display. Think of them as Christmas tree decorations—as well as of visioconceptual mathematical forms, since none of them, according to my definition, is mathexpressive.

The first of these, “Carrousel,” by Marilyn R. Rosenberg, captures the spirit, color and gift-packedness of the season as well as any poem could—without mentioning it (or having been intended to have anything to do with it). Just one of a hundred things you could do with it is find your ruling planet on it! (Certainly one of the many things it depicts, like the horoscope it suggests to me, is a year of changing seasons.) Just one of its other lovely subtle touches I feel I must mention is the “UR” at its center, speaking of ultimate beginnings.

Carrousel

Carrousel

The next, “Circle of Ifs,” by Gary Barwin, is similarly suggestive of a horoscope (to me), but otherwise quite different from “Carrousel”:

Circle of Ifs

Circle of Ifs

Here’s what Gary has to say about his adventures with circles, although speaking of another poem he sent me (which may well turn up in a later entry of this blog) “I am fascinated by the symbols of organizations, clubs, institutions, mysterious brotherhoods and sects, etc. Badges, insignia, symbolic representations of beliefs, and so on.

“Frequently these involve the circle. Circular shapes. Enclosing. Beginning where they start. Entwining. Words and mottos circling. Visual elements, but semantic also. Sometimes opaque in meaning and so only representing meaning. Sometimes a hidden meaning.

“Handsigns. Hands, often with eyes, or letters. Not whole. Human. A human letter or glyph. A noun that is always a verb.

“A circle is wholeness. Holeness.

“The ampersand is a kind of circle, ouroborous or Mobius strip, just given a twist. Or several. A celtic pattern. Eels or snakes in a basket of eels or snakes. The line amazes itself. Language is a kind of ourobouros, circle or Mobius strip. It turns in on itself. It encloses. Sometimes, it represents something that actually has more dimensions. (As a circle may represent a sphere.) Where is the beginning of a circle? A mobius strip? The roller coaster of an ampersand?”

Only suggesting a circle, and close to the opposite of what you’d call Christmassy, but strongly suggestive of mathematics is the following, which is a frame from a series its author, Bill DiMichele, calls, “’ylem,’ primal matter.” I included it not only because I like it, but to show the range of what poets I know have been doing with something as simple as the circle—in this case into what seems to me Franz Kline territory.

Ylem: primal matter

Ylem: primal matter

To finish with something by a favorite of visitors to this blog, Gerald L. Kaufman, here’s his “Circle-Elegee”:

Circle-Elegee

Circle-Elegee

Merry Christmas, everyone!

—-

*once warning us that we shouldn’t be climbing around on the roof of our two-story house when he saw us there one day

**yes, I imagined “Japs,” not “Japanese.” One of the heroes I read a series of books about was Dave Dawson, who fought the Japs, and called them that, just a few years before we moved to the house on the “hill” when I had just turned seven. (“The Hyde house,” it was called, after the man who owned it). We boys were fighting World War II until 1950.

***I can’t let the poem go by without a few more remarks about it. The main one is that I am proud of the way this poem slops anti-mathematically out of the extremely formal and rule-bound structure than a long division example is. I bring this use of carefree art against rigorous science not for the first time to advertise the long-division poetic form as often as possible in hopes of inspiring other poets to use it. I purposely make my poems imperfect, too, so they’ll think they can outdo them!

That’s a joke, of course, but sometimes, in my frequent darker moods, when I don’t see why I bother letting others see my work, I convince myself that after seeing them, those others will take the form to better places, and I will have thus made a little of the positive contribution to World Culture that I want to make. Before feeling sorry for me, you should know that right now I think I’ve done more for Christmas as a poet than anyone else in the world ever has—or could! Lo, I am seventeen Shazams above Captain Marvel!!! Send me money!

Don’t worry, I’ll drop down into the fairly rational zone I’m usually in soon.

Previously in this series:

M@h*(pOet)?ica
M@h*(pOet)?ica: Summerthings
M@h*(pOet)?ica–Louis Zukofsky’s Integral
M@h*(pOet)?ica—Scott Helmes
M@h*(pOet)?ica—of Pi and the Circle, Part 1

Bob Grumman About the Author: Bob Grumman is a widely-unknown mathematical poet and critic of what he calls “otherstream poetry.” He has been writing a regular column for Small Press Review for nearly twenty years. Born in Norwalk, Connecticut, he lived for fifteen years in North Hollywood, California, before moving to his present home in Port Charlotte, Florida, which he shares with his bicycle and his white cat, Spike. He has a blog at http://poeticks.com.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






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