What first reminded me of the similarity were some short poems I wrote last semester. Coaxing my thoughts into tight lines and short words, and wrangling those tight lines and short words into a form, felt like my days of stuggling with trigonometry in my senior year of high school. My soul-wrenching fight against unneeded words was reminiscent of my brain-wrenching fight against all those extra numbers that I could never seem to get to go away. It was one of the most exhausting experiences I've had.
When I looked at my completed poems, the brief, rectangular forms that barely spanned the width of a page margin felt like the little compact squares of "sincostan" sitting on a line, on top of some other combination of "sincostan," running down the page (or pages) as I vainly attempted to simlify the form or to solve for x. The satisfaction of "solving" the poems was as great as my satisfaction with solving those equations. Perhaps greater, because I knew my answers, the finished poems, were "correct." The deep seated fear of simplicity must have held on a bit, however, because it was with bated breath that I picked up my graded poetry portfolio on the last day of the semester.
Defining (and Proving) a Sestina
I want to thank my extremely intelligent friend Henry for finding this sestina about math. Actually it's more like a sestina about the mathematical qualities of sestinas. There is an undocumented (?) theory that the sestina's form came from a spiral graph, but that may be hooey.
Unfortunately this poem doesn't fully satisfy my curiosity about what's been done to explore the math/poetry connection. It was obviously written by a math major; it's on the math department's pages, and the language doesn't do anything poetic except match the form's requirements. Kudos to Caleb for being interested enough to undertake a poem. His use of "Definition," "Proof," etc. in the margin is ingenious. Here it is:
Sets of Words and Numbers
Is Caleb Emmons saying something about set theory with the formatting of the title of his sestina? There's a whole new can of worms for the language/math comparison. Words fit into sets as much as numbers. As a wordsmith I would argue that words are harder to categorize because they can be grouped by meaning, by origin, by sounds, etc. and all these methods would produce very different sets. But a math major may argue that numbers have just as many shades of meaning as words and can be defined in as many ways as language can be defined!
Of course, I will have to come back to this.