A few weeks ago, we asked you to write some mathematical poetry – π-ku, which are a bit like Haiku but instead of the structure 5-7-5, they use the more classical 3-1-4 format (and it doesn’t just have to be syllables – valid π-ku can also use 3, 1 and 4 words on each line, if you prefer).
You responded in large quantities – across Twitter and email, we received over 100 entries, from fun ditties to serious, beautiful poems. Since none of us here at the Aperiodical are particularly well-versed (pun intended) in poetry, we consulted maths/poetry aficionado and special guest judge JoAnne Growney, who runs a blog collating mathematical poems over at Poetry With Mathematics.
My son is obsessed with the Spike Milligan nonsense poem ‘On the Ning Nang Nong’. Here’s a video of Spike reciting it.
This weekend, he asked me to help him learn it. I’ve tried to memorise it before, to save having to find the book when he wants me to recite it. But somehow, it’s never quite stuck. I can remember all the bits and the basic order (Cows-Trees-Mice), and know what happens after the lines ending “Nong” (“Cows go bong”), “Ning” (“Trees go ping”) and “Nang” (“Mice go clang”). What I struggle with is remembering which order the “Ning”, “Nang” and “Nong” go before the one that rhymes with what comes next.
At the weekend, I wrote “Ning”, “Nang” and “Nong” on pieces of paper and we rearranged them as we read the poem. I realised my difficulty is a mathematician pattern-spotting one. There’s a not-quite Latin square embedded in the poem.
On top of the usual disclosures, I should add that Dave Gale and I interviewed Samuel Hansen this week for our Wrong, But Useful podcast, which you might like to listen to for a deeper insight into Samuel’s brain.
It’s a tool; a ratio, providing us simple rules for doing circular estimates. Admired regularly – and we all remember that today’s pi! Hooray! Let’s eat pie.
You may have noticed that the first paragraph of this article was immensely poorly written, and didn’t sound like good writing at all. And you’d be right – except writing it wasn’t easy as you’d think. I’ve written it under a constraint – that is, I’ve picked an arbitrary rule to follow, and have had to choose my words carefully in order to do so.
Phil Ramsden gave an excellent talk at the 2013 MathsJam conference, about a particularly mathematical form of poetry. We asked him to write an article explaining it in more detail.
Generals gathered in their masses,
Just like witches at black masses.
(Butler et al., “War Pigs”, Paranoid, 1970)
Brummie hard-rockers Black Sabbath have sometimes been derided for the way writer Geezer Butler rhymes “masses” with “masses”. But this is a little unfair. After all, Edward Lear used to do the same thing in his original limericks. For example:
There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!-
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!”
(“There was an Old Man with a beard”, from Lear, E., A Book Of Nonsense, 1846.)
And actually, the practice goes back a lot longer than that. The sestina is a poetic form that dates from the 12th century, and was later perfected by Dante. It works entirely on “whole-word” rhymes.
We’ve been quietly making plans and gathering material for a new project over the past couple of weeks, after noticing that there’s an unusual paucity of maths podcasts at the moment. Well, that exciting new project is now happening, and it’s a half-hour podcast featuring maths, guests, puzzles and links from the internet. It’s called All Squared, and it’ll contain cringe-inducing intro/ending contrivances, interesting guest interviews on topical and other subjects, and a panoply of mathematical curiosities.
This is the first number of the podcast (we thought ‘episode’ would set unrealistic expectations of regularity, and we can never resist a pun). It includes an interview with Edmund Harriss about spoken mathematics, as well as a puzzle which we’ll give the answer to in the next number, and a great mathematical flash game to keep you occupied until that appears.