Monday, June 14, 2010

Five Types of Mathematical Poetry

These are some delineations of "types" of mathematical poems that I have constructed from my experiences through my survey of mathematical poetry and mathematical poets. While it is true that I am writing these delineations they are not necessarily based on my personal beliefs they are based on what I have gathered from others who claim to be mathematical poets. Personally I have problems with some of these ideas and I may or may not address my objections later. However, I think it is important to draw some lines in the sand for discussion. Obviously these lines may move through further discussion and I can imagine that this page will be edited in the future.

I might add that numerous mathematical poems that I have experienced have facets or elements that extend into more than one of these types. In other words, very few "Mathematical Poems" can be described by just one category.

They are:
1.)“Mathematics Poetry”
2.)“Mathematical Visual Poetry”
3.)“Equational Poetry
4.)“Visual Mathematical Poetry
5.)“Pure Maths Poetry” which encompasses ”Number Poetry”

1.)‘Mathematics Poems’ are lexical poems that are influenced by the field of mathematics - There are many examples of these on the internet. This type of poem is the most lexical yet the least like “Pure Mathematics” in the sense of performing mathematical operations on the elements in the visual field. JoAnne Growney seems to be the biggest supporter of these types of poems on found on the internet.
Here is her blog

2.)“Mathematical Visual poetry” uses words and images mixed with/and/or mathematical symbols into a visual field. The mathematical symbols may or may not follow the rules for the formal language of mathematics. This type is much more open and encompasses everything between visual poetry and equational poetry. Because of the wide range of intent it is difficult to place a work on a scale between lexical poetry and pure mathematics However, I believe that if it is more toward visual poetry then it is less like pure mathematics and if it is more like equational poetry then it functions closer to pure mathematics. Or should I say it follows the rules of pure mathematics. Examples of mathematical visual poetry would be in the body of work from Karl Kempton, Scott Helmes, Pi.O. and Bob Grumman

3.)“Equational Poetry” is more rigid than “Mathematical Visual Poetry” in its use of mathematical elements. The rules of mathematics are explicitly used within the structure of the mathematical poem. The explicit use of mathematical rules is what separates “Equational Poetry” from “Mathematical Visual Poetry”. Within the equations words serve as metaphors as well as nested metaphors (metaphors inside metaphors) An example of this type of work would be the mathematical poems at this link. Also Bob Grumman approaches his work with elements of equational poetry and I must also mention the work of Craig Damrauer, which also falls into this catagory. If there are no words in the equation then it is not equational poetry

4.)“Visual Mathematical Poetry” follows the rules of mathematics the same as ‘Equational Poetry’ however the terms for the mathematical poem are purely visual as opposed to textual. In other words the metaphors are visual as opposed to lexical, yet, in essence they function mechanically the same.

5.) “Pure Maths Poetry” is the viewpoint that pure mathematical statements are a poetic expression. What
separates Pure Maths Poetry from the other types is that there are no words/lexical statement. Relative to all types of mathematical poetry “Pure Math Poetry” is the least like “Lexical Poetry.”
Number Poem is a visual formation of numbers who have a verifiable mathematical relationship to each other. The main poetic element in number poems is rhythm or pattern and can be seen by repetitions of certain numbers or operations. Number poems function correctly only when the rules of mathematics are observed. Richard Kostelanetz work from the 1970’s serves as one example of these poems yet, Magic squares and Yang Hui’s Triangle would be examples that are hundreds of years old. Number poems Number Poetry would be a subset of pure math poetry.
Toni Prat also does number poems, however, where Koselanetz focused on mathematical beauty, Prat focuses on paradox which some say is the crux of mathematical metaphor.


pszren said...

wow, this was so good! I love it (and I must try to use this theory in practice :) ).

Kaz Maslanka said...

Dear Pszren, I would love to see what you come up with. Email your Mathematical Poems to kazmandu at aol dot com



VizPo-Central said...

Kaz, what you call, "Equational Poetry" is, for me, the only true "mathematical poetry." Except that I require a mathematical poem merely to carry out a mathematical operation--divide one word by another, for instance--not necessarily be an equation (although most of mine are.

As I once told Richard K., I call your fourth category "numerical poetry." It has to do with numbers (and can be terrific, as in many of his).

I have a big problem with your "visual mathematical poetry" so far as you include artworks that contain mathematical symbols but don't necessarily do anything with them but exhibit them. Such a poem would be at best for me a visual poem using that part of the language that is mathematical but not being mathematical.

There's also a conflict with true mathematical poetry (i.e., mathematical poetry by my definition) that is also visual, as with many of yours and mine. I call such poetry "visio-mathematical poetry. It would include works without words in which visual images are subjected to mathematical operations; those operations would require mathematical symbols, so would satisfy my requirement that a poem have words--mathematical symbols being words, in my view--just as an ampersand is.

Sorry. I'm a minority of one in just about every aspect of poetics, and unable to keep quiet about it.

Am looking forward to seeing you and Gregory and Richard in New York July 10.

all best, Bob

Kaz Maslanka said...

I certainly understand why you call equational poetry the only ‘true’ mathematical poetry due to it being the most functionally mathematical and most poetic at the same time. Number poetry is not any more mathematical than equational poetry yet it is closer to pure math which (I believe) makes it less poetic. All this said it has been brought to my attention that the term mathematical poetry is not mine to dominate – and that is due to so many people claiming the term for their own use. Therefore if I step back and look at the term from an unbiased position then I must conclude that the term is an umbrella term for many applications of the word.
Bob you misquoted me; I did not say Visual Mathematical Poetry what I said was Mathematical Visual Poetry which is more in line with Visual Poetry and also in line with what you are saying. In my use of the term ‘Mathematical Visual Poetry’ the emphasis is on Visual Poetry. Which brings me to your next comment to which I agree with. What you call ‘Viso-Mathematical Poetry’, I have called Visual Mathematical Poetry (which is a subset of ‘Equational Poetry’) since I have abandoned using the term mathematical poetry for my own personal use. I should call ‘Visual Mathematical Poetry’ ‘Visual Equation Poetry’ however I really don’t have a big problem with ‘Viso-Mathematical Poetry’
As far as your long division poems are concerned I see your intention being equational poetry. The long division poem is really an equation even though the equal sign is implied. (X divided by Y equals Z with a remainder of W )

There is no reason to apologize for being a minority … as I see it we mathematical poets will die someday and this mathpo virga will disappear into the void of exiled history.

Yes looking forward to seeing you and Gregory and Richard in NYC.

VizPo-Central said...

Number poetry gives one an appreciation of pure math but doesn't seem to me to be poetry. Appreciation of it takes place in one's mathematical awareness only, it seems to me.

The more I think about it, the less I know what to call it. It's not visimagery (i.e., visual art). I guess I would call it number art--it's numbers arranged in order to elicit mathematical pleasure. It's not a kind of mathematical poetry, but an equal art.

As for who "dominates" the term, "mathematical poetry," I say let there be competition; let all who want to define it have their say, and hope that reason prevails. What usually happens in picking terms for kinds of art is what has happened with the term, "postmodernism." A catchy worthless term is coined, probably by an ignorant academic, and someone even more ignorant but with a lot of readers makes it fashionable, and the morons run with it before people of intelligence have had a chance to analyze it and perhaps find a better term.

I will admit that my definition of mathematical poetry fits the kind of math-related poems I compose. So what? What matters is not whether my self-interest is involved, but whether the definition is effective or not.

Aside from what I'm calling "number art," it seems to me there are three kinds of math-related poetry: poetry that is about math, poetry that is generated by some kind of mathematical formula (like make a poem out of every third word in a given dictionary, and poetry in which some mathematical operation is aesthetically central.

I don't think poetry about math should be considered poetry because, to make it simple: poetry about chemistry is not called "chemical poetry," poetry about Bach would not be called "musical poetry," poetry about Picasso's paintings would not be called "visual poetry," poetry about Maria Tallchief would not be called "choreographical poetry," and so forth.

Similarly, mathematically-generated poetry (like sonnets, which are generated in part by the rule that they be ten by fourteen unit rectangles, or that kind of poem each of whose lines has a number of words in it equal to the sum of the number of words in the preceding two lines, or whatever it is) are no more mathematical poems than a bridge of building is a mathematical bridge or mathematical building because generated in part by mathematics. The end product is not mathematical.

Sorry about the slip up regarding "mathematical visual poetry," and I do see the difference. I wasn't able to type my post and read your entry at the same time, and forgot your designation. Anyway, my opinion remains the same: a visual poem that has mathematical symbols in it that don't carry out any mathematical operations is simply a visual poem with mathematical content.

I agree that my long division poems are equational. But some of my other math-related poems are just terms, Like one that is just an ampersand with an exponent of three. "Andness" multiplied by itself twice. I suppose you could call it an equation, half of which is implied.

Yes, I'm sure our little controversies will disappear into some void or other--"exiled history" sounds okay. Better than "non-history."

all best, Bob

Unknown said...

Wonderful blog! Its great to know that poets are experimenting with these two focuses. I personally work with multi-variable calculus, but I would certainly like to try out some of the "categories" you've listed. Would love to collaborate sometime!

Kaz Maslanka said...

Hi Zachary, We are all about collaboration - we would love to see any of your math poems. If I can help with anything please let me know. My Email is kazmandu at aol dot com

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