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An elegant proof - mathematicians say that.  Many of us never saw elegance in a proof, and we might even stereotype poets as a group that overall scored poorly on the SAT math section. And yet, I find a number of poems that concern math.  (Here's a small online anthology of mathematical poetry)

"Geometry" by Rita Dove, moves between the rational, real world that we can know - a house and a theorem - and the transformed house which expands like a universe animated in a film for us to see. The geometric lines one can draw to represent something that is really quite different, are not so unlike the lines we draw on paper that make a poem.

Use any aspect of mathematics in writing your poem - terminology (finite, parallels, paradox, pi, lowest common denominator), theory (math theory of sculpture, game theory, chaos theory), your own study of it, or, perhaps, use a mathematical form (poem as equation, theorem & corollary), trying to find poetry in numbers or the numbers in poetry.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.

A man with a watch knows the time.
A man with two watches can never be sure.

I am counting off the beat in hand claps, 
looking for meter in my lub-dub heartbeats 
and dividing it into nanoseconds.

Maybe at the nano level I will find 
a sequence that shows the way, 
the God in the machine

that makes the watch tick;
makes cells divide in billionths;
allows this volatile memory

to hold in its bundled neurons
the scent of her perfume
that last time we touched.

Charles Michaels


Knowing what I know of things,
having lived until today,
I reject geometry.
Too few things ever go in a straight line
to believe that two straight lines will stay parallel
to infinity - if there is such a thing,
or even straight lines.
Points aren't necessary where they are anymore
and anyone knows who lives in the world
that straight lines are artificial and
nothing manmade is infinite.
It is a thing we say because
we don't know what else to say except
"they go on to infinity."
Parallel lines, after they leave our view,
wink and nudge each other and
burst into stars, laughing so hard
at fooling us.

Marvin Lurie


How can I praise the outrage Gödel brought?
Mathematics torn to baseless shreds;
Scholars tumbled from their tenured beds.
Professors, parsing propositions, sought
To mute conjecture, lest the farce they taught
Should pry them from their sherried Chairs. Threads
Of logic tore apart, and donnish dreads
Of fallacy convulsed the overwrought.

Yet, Gödel's thunder hides a healing theme
Within his proof that reason is inchoate.
He bears a bright reward that Hilbert's dream
Had failed to count-and all the wranglers know it: Soul-devouring though the numbers seem,
Whole -- and holy -- worlds require the poet.

Richard Lubbock


Trace the star's angle,
elbowing the darkness
out of an obtuse sky.
Reflected half moon
arcs into a perfect lens
across the lake. You see
each other eye to eye
in such moonlight,
words overlap. Venn's 
Diagram admits divergence.
The curve of acute argument
an open bowl, where the line
once closed the lid.

Jill Teague 


At a party in 1974,
A girl added my birth year, month and day,
so that 83 became 8+3 = 11 
which became 1+1 = 2?
And she told me it was my key number.

But I grew up in a house labeled 22
And at 15 I rode the #135 bus
to my afterschool job,
my start on the road to social
security whose number began 150-
not a 2 in the lot.

I had certainly forgotten numerology
by the time we had bought our house.
Big numbers by then – 70,000
which became 350,000 in 20 years
[that’s 2X every 5 years]
+ 2 children (a key number)
and divided by 2 when we split up.
And 2 ÷ 2 was, of course,

the lowest common denominator
of us all and my new key number.
With only one factor, itself,
not prime as with 2.
No matter what was multiplied
against me now,
I remain myself,

Lianna Wright


Math measures the distance between two points.
On the beautiful, unfamiliar road to a friend’s new house
I must go a half-mile between signposts 
And another twenty feet to a curve in the road.
I concentrate.
The going is slow: miles, feet, inches.
I’m sure I’ve missed the turnoff.
Should I go back?
Getting there always takes longer than I plan,
But finally I arrive.

Getting there always takes longer than I plan.
Every year I see Gabe.
The math of time measures the distance between years.
I have seen him for a week.
I see no difference in him from the first to the last day.
But he has grown so much from last year.
Looking back, minutes have been squashed;
Big as he is, I forget he is six and has to hold my hand crossing the street.

On the road back, I see only the details.
I recall moments of my week with Gabe.
Everything seems to move faster.
The trip is shorter.
The distance between miles, between years,
Collapses into an instant of memory, a digital photo on the Internet.

Ellen Kaplan 


 life is more than just consumption; consummation is more than time

                                                                                        Don't you reject

                                                                                        consumption trying to be real life?

You don't reject

real life that is a consummation!

In malls, measure value-no price-

the time we squander

shopping is garbage we throw out.

                                                                                        Price-no value measure-in life,

                                                                                        the time we consume

                                                                                        musing is treasure we grow  in.

Alan R. Bender
click here for a note on this poem



Relationship as equation. Is that what I was saying?
That there were unknowns that needed to be solved,
because if we knew what would be divided
and what we needed to add,
we could arrive at some elegant proof?

I was taught in a time of slide rules,
slower and more visual, where I could see
the numbers moving into place and aligning.
All lost now to liquid crystals of memory and flash.

As if there was a theorem without corollary,
or that balancing the equation would mean a solution.
Should I have said that it's all patterns and relationships?

Had we both learned and then forgotten
the permutations of love, the illusion of probability,
the theory of uncertainty?

Ken Ronkowitz


four corners square
horizontal and vertical lines
staring into time
and space
planning and plotting
the next move mine
i find it all a little much
these rooks and pawns
knights and kings
queens and dreams
castles and schemes
ain't life a hoot?
it's like
playing chess with a mute

Ray Cutshaw


I agree with the point
though infinitely finite
I am less
about it all.

Ignoring equations
whether Romans dreamt or not
I simply find it not there
not missing, mind you
a something that’s nothing.

Consider null less
than something
while nothing occupies space
and time
in its wonderful curve

an empty space
filled with void
unseen, unheard, but solidly nowhere
a point I think
we continue to miss.

James M. Thompson


They have this theory that
the universe is all tied up,
a colossal, celestial parcel, bound
round with some sort of strings
no one’s ever even seen,
the only proof that they exist,
the strings of formulae
as fragile as chalk dust
laid logically in patterns
on boards in an attempt to prove
that if this be true, then that.
One false step in logic,
one misplaced ergo,
and the strung-together theory
unravels. Its conclusions
fall as flakes into a chalk tray.

Gretchen Fletcher

an acrostic

Mathematicians always find a way
[Even making tools to do the work
After finding their ideas lurk
Somewhere in the dark or day]
Under stress no scientist can shirk
Relying on instinctive numbers-quirk
Engineering theorem into sway.
Reality will always be their tool,
Hiding Truth within component parts
Yet to be discovered. [Not the darts
Thrown for fun by actions of a fool
Hurling arrows before the battle starts.]
Mathematicians place it all in charts;
Prepare equations like a tasty gruel;
Relying on their appetite for sum
Or dividend or quotient fairly set
Perfectly to see conundrums met
Or to stretch in theories to come
Rejoicing in that mind-at-work can get
To make the earth’s survival a safer bet
Insuring better answers coming from
Overpowering digit analysis 
Never doubting it’s as simple as this.

Catherine M. LeGault


Mrs. Helen La Place
Who looked like no other
Woman he knew in childhood
Said eight and nine
Are always seventeen,
You cannot add another way.

She took his mother aside
To tell her,
"It is your duty to dress your son
Your saying he resembles
His disorderly father
With his pupick sticking out
Is no excuse.
I take pupick to be stomach."

"What does this goyish lady
Know about addition?
Eight and nine
Hate and time
Are how I add her up."

"But...but...I have to add her way
If I am to get a hundred
And prove you wrong.
An area where you are wrong
And I am right.

Edward N. Halperin