Citizen of nowhere

He looked at me across the counter, pen poised above the form, and asked where I was born. We had made good progress up till then. Name, age, gender, marital status, I knew all the answers. But now: where was I born? A silence floated in the ice-white hall and wobbled outwards like a slowly blown bubble. My breath was going nowhere. He asked again – Your place of birth? – and the walls dissolved into sunlight, straggled poinsettia bleeding white, mealies roasted in mopani embers, crack of msasa pods curled beneath my foot. Somewhere in a non-existent country. He was getting impatient, I could see, so I drew my coat a little tighter round my self and scrabbled to release my breath. In my mental fists I held two names, one in the past and one in the present. Which one should I give him? I opened my mouth and offered the name that was on the palm of my tongue.

This poem first appeared in The Stony Thursday Book no.16, Summer 2018, edited by Nessa O’Mahony.

Poetry and Fractals

In his 1982 book ‘The Fractal Geometry of Nature’ the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot explored ‘irregular and fragmented patterns around us’ that ‘tend to be scaling, implying that the degree of their irregularity and/or fragmentation is identical at all scales.’

He called this family of shapes fractals, from the Latin adjective fractus, meaning fragmented or irregular. Such objects, Mandelbrot noted, are present in nature as well as in a wide range of fields.

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Intersections – Poetry, Mathematics and JoAnne Growney

Emmy Noether was one of the great mathematicians of the early 20th century. Born in Bavaria in 1882, she loved dancing and initially trained to be a language teacher before opting, despite numerous obstacles, to study mathematics at university. She went on to make significant contributions in many areas of mathematics and mathematical physics, most notably in the field of abstract algebra.  

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Mathematical forms in poetry 5 – number sequences

Sometime around 1550 BC an Egyptian scribe named Ahmes noted down a method for obtaining the area of a circle, in what is the earliest recorded attempt to evaluate the number we know as 𝜋.

The history of 𝜋 (its symbol is the Greek letter pi) is fascinating, as are its many applications in poetry. To 16 digits, the expansion of 𝜋 is

𝜋 = 3.141592653589793.

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Among vetch and dandelions,
hollow shells, inhabitants gorged 
by blackbirds whose songs tremble
in summer’s heat, you emerge - 
wrap around my calves, bind
my arms, entwine my throat, caress
my neck, my ears – insidious
as haar that creeps in from the sea
to steal the sun. Overhead, siren
insistence of oystercatchers, while
beneath the hawthorn bush 
a magpie tilts its head. Across 
years and continents, 
we cannot decohere.

This poem was first published in Dust Poetry in May 2021. 

Mathematical forms in poetry 4 – Permutations

Permutations are a feature of many poetic forms: rhyme and metrical patterns, the arrangement of lines in a villanelle or pantoum, the rotation of end-words through the stanzas of a sestina. Ruth Holzer’s ‘For Dylan Thomas on His Hundredth Birthday’ is an example of a sestina by a contemporary poet, with end-words wild, skyendhillswavelove.

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