Mathematical forms in poetry 1: the Fibonacci poem

The Fibonacci sequence crops up in many different contexts in both nature and mathematics. Starting with 0 and 1, each number in the sequence is the sum of the two preceding numbers, giving

0,   1,   1,   2,   3,   5,   8,   13,   21,   34, …

and so on. The sequence is named after the Italian mathematician Leonardo Pisano, whose nickname was Fibonacci. 

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Review: Learning to be Very Soft by Callan Waldron-Hall

Callon Waldron-Hall was one of the recipients of last year’s New Poet’s Prize, an annual competition organised by The Poetry Business. His debut pamphlet, Learning to be Very Soft, was published in June and is a worthy prize-winner.    Written in clear, unadorned language with gentle, fluid rhythms, the poems use everyday experiences – a car journey, a visit to the doctor, winding in the lane ropes at a swimming pool – as windows into the inner world of boyhood with all its vulnerability, awkwardness and shame. 

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Review: Science Poems – an Anthology from Penteract Press

Penteract Press has a reputation for focussing on formal, constrained and experimental poetry, for exploring the interface between poetry and visual art, with careful attention to detail in their publications. Science Poems, an anthology edited by Anthony Etherin and Clara Daneri and featuring work by Christian Bök, Gary Barwin, M D Kerr, Kyle Flemmer and Pedro Poitevin among others, is no exception. 

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Review: Ode to Numbers by Sarah Glaz.

In her poem ‘A Woman in Love’, the mathematician and poet Sarah Glaz describes herself as seeing ‘a streak of mathematics/ in almost everything’. The title of her collection of mathematical poetry, Ode to Numbers, is taken from a poem by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda which invokes the passion of mathematical curiosity, the urge to understand the mysteries of the universe in quantified terms, the desire ‘to know/ how many/ stars in the sky’(Neruda, 1999).  

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Review: Smoke that Thunders by Eveline Pye

Mosi-oa-Tunya – the Smoke that Thunders, also known as the Victoria Falls – straddles the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. From its broad, smooth-flowing course across a flat basalt plain the Zambezi river suddenly plummets down a fissure in the rock, foaming and churning into the narrow gorge over a hundred metres below. I remember visiting in my childhood: the roar of water, the arc of rainbows in the drenching spray, the smell of wet vegetation, the unprotected edge.

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Poetry and Mathematics

…the forces
that divergent guide my life
are like two teams of horses
straining at my heart.
Yet I contain no vacuum –
and am slowly torn apart.

This snippet of a poem, written when I was seventeen, expresses the conflict I felt between my passion for the arts and for the sciences, specifically between poetry and applied mathematics. To my teenage self, the two seemed inherently incompatible. Mathematics, as I understood it at the time, was logical and disciplined, whereas poetry required what Keats described as ‘Negative Capability, that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason’ (Keats, 1817).

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