April 12, 2016

Friday, March 15, 2013

Poetry Friday: In Praise of Math Poetry

Are you following college hoops? Me either. My heart belongs to football (Ravens!) and my body belongs to yoga.

Give me a wall, I'll stand upside down
and perpendicular for you any time.

My mind? I am exercising it by participating in March Madness Poetry, cunningly organized by the brilliant and technically prolific Ed DeCaria at Think, Kid Think.

What is March Madness Poetry? Ed explains the competition here.

I was nervous and excited to be selected as a March Madness Authlete. Then, the words were announced. I pulled the sixth seed word "perpendicular."
It's been nearly a year since my last
athletic escapade.

Thus began a mad race to find rhymes for my word: curricular, particular, extracurricular.

And near-rhymes: triangular, rectanuglar, octangular, crecpuscular, caterpillar. Caterpillar? An idea was hatching. But first, attempt #1 -- 9 PM. (Admission, I have revised this poem since.)

Posture Perfect

When Mom wants us to stand up straight
she stacks our heads with dish and plate
and makes us march us around the room
from suppertime to rise of moon.

“But I have homework!” I complain.
“Quadratic angles to explain.”
Standing perpendicular
is entirely extracurricular.

Laura Shovan

But I couldn't get the caterpillar out of my mind. Among my list of possible words for the poem are two notes: "inchworm: perpendicular caterpillar" and "inchworm in math class."  I must have been inspired by all those words ending in angular.

"Okay, inchworm," I thought. "Let's give you a try." Here is poem #2, written at about 9:30 PM.


Angles and hexagons curdle my brain when I sit in math class,
but do I complain? Not when my tutor decides to stop by
with legs at both ends and a poppy-seed eye.
He measures rectangular sides with green ease,
inching along each new problem he sees.
His middle points up, perpendicular line.
Since my tutor’s an inchworm, my grades are just fine.

Which my daughter quickly labeled "confusing." 

She wrote her own math poem. (Maybe next year, Ed will have a junior authlete division. Julia is already in training.)

90 Degrees

Perpendicular means ninety degrees.
No more, no less, if you're eager to please.
Use a straight edge and proceed with care
if you wish to make a perfectional square.
A protractor measures exactly precise
from point A to point B the degree -- it's quite nice.
Be careful to place the dot in the right place,
or your square could turn out to be a disgrace.

by Julia Shovan

I went to bed impressed with her work, a little defeated about mine, but hopeful.

And I dreamed of perpendicular. Not perpendicular things like chair backs and hand stands. No. I had dreams about the actual, mathematical word in all its clumsiness. Oy.

The next morning, I decided to revise "Worm-ometry." In the new poem, a kid tells us about his  math teacher, who is an inchworm.

(You can read the final poem, as entered in the March Madness Poetry tournament. Be sure to vote for your favorite!)

Just in case I was on the wrong track, I got out my trusty tin of postcards and wrote a FOURTH poem. I know. I am insane.
K51  This beautiful poem was written by Joseph B. Strauss,
engineer, artist, musician, poet and builder of the Golden Gate Bridge.


Mother to Son

I will take you
            to the Redwoods
                        before you’re grown and gone.
We’ll stand beneath
            their canopy, the trunks
                        ancient and strong.
How straight they reach
            from earth to sky,
                        in perpendicular groves.
My love is like
            the Redwoods, and
once planted, never moves.

Poetry Postcard #50 (View the postcard project wrap-up here.)

My daughter came home from school. She liked both new poems. I consulted with several sources. Their advice: go with math humor over heartfelt.

I thought I was ready to submit until  my husband got involved. He is a math brain, an engineer by training, and he hated the title. "Worm-Ometry" did not make sense to him. Our mathy son concurred.

I tore my hair out. Then, I said, "Aha! I will look up the scientific name of the inchworm." Which is GEOMETER.

Yes. My geometry-teaching inchworm would some day grow up to be a Geometer Moth. How is that for serendipity?

Our Poetry Friday host is Jone at Check it Out. The March Madness Poetry entries are so fabulous, I hope you have some time to check out the perspicacious poets at work.


Renee LaTulippe said...

The discovery about GEOMETER is crazy! It was meant to be. I enjoyed this frolic through your MM poetry attempts and think the redwood poem is just beautiful. I agree that you submitted the right one for this particular competition, though. "Geometer" is one of my faves in Round 1 - so charming!

skanny17 said...

Ah, yes. LOVE your whole GEOMETER and the inchworm serendiity!!! (Serendipity....found the typo but it reads funny, so I left it.)

Glad you went with funny over heartfelt. Good choice though I like your Redwoods poem. Dana Gioia has a heartfelt poem about redwoods (at least I think it is redwood forest based). I was at a reading he did to honor poetry. VERY COOL opportunity for me. I recommend a moving new-er poem called Majority. Good luck in MMPOETRY. The poems that have been created in 36 hours truly boggle. I do like Worm-ology a lot by the way and did not find it confusing. Must re-read. I think little kids might like this. Janet F.

Liz Steinglass said...

It's fun to see the progress of your thinking and your multiple approaches. I love the redwood poem and the one you entered. I tried a second hubris poem but then went with my first. There's something good about digging deeper and there's also something good about spontaneity.

Author Amok said...

Renee, I KNOW. Wild, isn't it? Good thing we have two math brains in the house to ground me. I was freaking out. I have since taken "perpendicular" out of the redwood poem (thank to advice from Tabatha Yeatts). I loved the insights into your poetry writing process today.

Author Amok said...

Janet F -- I am going to hear Dana Gioia read in about ten days. Can't wait. I like the phrase "green ease" from the first attempt at "Worm-Ometry."

Author Amok said...

Liz, I loved your hubris poem today. You're right, it's good to trust your instincts. My first response was to see an inchworm folding up, perpendicular. Good thing my family stretches me -- I think the submitted poem is my favorite.

Tabatha said...

I love the inchworm/geometry serendipity, too. Where are you seeing Dana Gioia, Laura? How marvelous!

jama said...

I agree -- you chose the right poem to submit. "Geometer" is adorable and perpendicular quite a challenging word. Hats off to you and good luck -- fun to read about your MM poetry frenzy. :) Julia's poem is great too!

Unknown said...

Good job Laura. I voted for your poem.

Buffy Silverman said...

So interesting to see how others approached this madness. And yes, Geometer is a wonderfully serendipitous title. Maybe you've got a collection of perpendicular poems in your future?

Katya said...

I love the idea of a Jr. Authletes division! I have a budding Authlete at home, too.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

So enjoyable, this post, in every way! That serendipity--in my case finding that hippos really can crush little crocodile skulls--is what led me to risk the 3rd version of Watts's poem. Way to go!

Bridget Magee said...

Laura, so fun to see your process and progression as you came up with just the right poem using the word: “perpendicular” - wow!

Linda B said...

Lovely story, Laura, especially the geometer serendipity! Nice that you had all that surrounding 'poem love'! Congrats on your great poem & best to you in round two!

Mary Lee said...

I LOVE all of these process posts!

It is indeed serendipitous (don't show that word to Ed) how the the mind works and how the final revisions lead to perfection! Congrats on your win!

Ruth said...

As others have said, I am really enjoying all these posts about the process. I loved your final choice, but all the others are great too! There is so much talent in this contest!