|#35! Angelou's #1, but there's no way she'll make|
it through conference play without a loss.
I enjoy poetry a lot, but don't read as much as I would like. I have virtually none committed to memory, despite thinking that would be very cool. I don't write it, but have been wondering this past year how you even get started.
He was charming, lovely voice, aware of the audience and built his set of poems like a jazz musician, making sure to hit the hits, but improvising based on conditions, inspirations and audience response. For example he read this poem, To My Favorite 17 Year Old High School Girl, which may be his biggest smash: (around 5:30)
We bought that book - it is a lovely retrospective with new poems including the one he and Colbert read.
In our reading, he had me right away; before his first poem he talked about how nice it was that we were there. That, in fact, it was nice that anyone liked poetry given the way most of us are introduced to it. By which, he meant, in school. Imagine if the first time we listened to music, it was someone picking a suitable piece, they played it for a whole group, and then sat us down to ask us questions about it.
By the same token, it's a wonder that anyone likes math, eh?
I really liked a lot of it. This poem, Aristotle, you can hear him read at the Poetry Foundation. It's about how Aristotle introduced or recognized the beginning middle and end structure for literature.
"This is the middle...If there is an official poem of Three Act lessons, this is it.
This is the bridge, the painful modulation.This is the thick of things.So much is crowded into the middle—the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados,Russian uniforms, noisy parties,lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall—too much to name, too much to think about."
Jamie Radcliffe was a young visiting prof at Penn when I was at grad school there, and an all round good guy. (Now a full prof at Nebraska-Lincoln.) In addition to telling the best ever thesis joke, he had this great line about math and poetry. Even if he had only learned enough math to write doggerel, he was glad to have learned enough math to read the classic works of poetry from the all time great mathematicians.
Sometimes I think that this is the greatest sin of school mathematics. Making people think that the worst of the doggerel is all of math, and then making the students memorize it. Not only missing out on many of the potential future poets of mathematics, but denying most students the whole art of mathematics.
But what would be the equivalent of poetry readings in school for math? The closest I've seen, I think, is Fawn's My Math exploration of Math Munch. (See also Sam's adaptation.) In my classroom, the day they bring in their patterns they've made and share their thinking and noticing is pretty close.
And it was crucial to let them talk. Just looking, I missed a lot of their intent. Other students noticed things that even the creators hadn't. There were several comments about "what if..." that were good math thinking. I also contributed a few noticings... I think that let them know that there was some real math here.
Afterwards he did a short Q & A. One of the first questions was about his process. He said, (paraphrasing from here out) take for example "I Chop Some Parsley While Listening To 'Three Blind Mice'" I was in my kitchen, chopping parsley, listening to Art Blakey. I was thinking, who hears three blind mice and thinks it's a good jazz tune. It's hot cross buns. But then I thought, how did they become blind? Was it congenital? Think how distraught the mother would be. Maybe an accident - an explosion! Mice covering there eyes. I take the pen out of pocket and now I'm at the office. If they became blind separately, how did they find each other? I mean how hard is it for a blind mice to even find another mouse, let alone two more blind ones? And then, what, the farmer's wife?! Now they've lost their tails, too.
And I start wondering how they came to be blind.He finishes this discussion by saying, it's about curiousity. I get curious about it, and then I just have to work it out. (Here's the song; I love Blakey, and know this album well - didn't hurt when hearing the story.)
If it was congenital, they could be brothers and sister,
and I think of the poor mother
brooding over her sightless young triplets.
Or was it a common accident, all three caught
in a searing explosion, a firework perhaps?
if each came to his or her blindness separately,
how did they ever manage to find one another?
Would it not be difficult for a blind mouse
to locate even one fellow mouse with vision
let alone two other blind ones?
And how, in their tiny darkness,
could they possibly have run after a farmer's wife
or anyone else's wife for that matter?
Not to mention why.
Just so she could cut off their tails
with a carving knife, is the cynic's answer,
but the thought of them without eyes
and now without tails to trail through the moist grass
or slip around the corner of a baseboard
has the cynic who always lounges within me
up off his couch and at the window
trying to hide the rising softness that he feels.
By now I am on to dicing an onion
which might account for the wet stinging
in my own eyes, though Freddie Hubbard's
mournful trumpet on "Blue Moon,"
which happens to be the next cut,
cannot be said to be making matters any better.
I so get that - happened to me just this week with Justin Lanier's Star Fractal pattern. I just had to work it out.
Someone asked how old he was when he started. About 10. He saw a sailboat on a drive up the Hudson River parkway that he needed to write about. He figures everyone has 50 to 300 bad poems in them; high school is good for getting through a lot of them. Someone asked if poetry was good for expressing feelings. He told her that nobody cares. You're writing to get the reader to feel things. If you're good at it, they might start caring about yours.
One of our friends with whom we went, Joanie, was a high school lit teacher among other things (see her IB thoughts). I asked her how she taught poetry. Students try, and you just read it and give them feedback. A lot of it's terrible, but you let them know if they lost their focus or what they're writing about. I do want to be a reader for my students.
So I'm still processing it, but wanted to get these thoughts down.
Do you have any thoughts on math as a liberal art? How do you teach to create an appreciation for the poetry of math, or to create a space for future mathematicians?
To close, I'll include one more of his poems. And ask if maybe we should be commiserating with poets more often.
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.