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Monday, September 23, 2013

Euphonious Equations

From this interview of mathematician Keith Devlin over at the On Being Podcast, I learned about Devlin's  musical collaboration with the group Zambra. Listen (and watch the dance accompaniment as well) at Keith Devlin's website, including musical renditions of Euler's equation, the area of a circle, and five others.

Or, you can just listen to a sampling of the collaboration at On Being, by clicking on "Show Playlist" at the left. I particularly recommend "Euler's Polyhedron Formula," "Einstein's Energy Equation," and "Leibniz's Series for Pi."

image borrowed shamelessly from Nikhat Parveen's Golden Ratio and the Platonic Solids

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Return to Facebook

So after a year and a half of being off Facebook, I'm back on, and here's why. I just found out that my manuscript Mendeleev's Mandala was a semi-finalist for C&R Press's De Novo Prize. The announcement went out a week ago, via Facebook, and I've patiently been waiting to hear, but didn't because it's not on the publisher's website, only on their Facebook page. So I'm back on FB to forestall any future problems like this.

I'm torn about the FB thing;  I didn't miss it when I wasn't on it, but perhaps there's no other way to keep in touch with certain entities in the poetry world.

And I'm happy about the semi-finalist finishing for my manuscript. Here's hoping the newly reordered manuscript does even better somewhere else.

Friday, September 20, 2013


I have been reordering the poems in my manuscript this week. Hard work. Hard decisions to make.

Since repetition is one of the themes in my manuscript, in my first version I did not group similarly themed poems together, but had them popping up at intervals throughout the book, so that the order reinforced the notion of repetition. But now I have begun to fear that this has not been working well, that it was too subtle a point to make via overall form of the manuscript, that the repetition was not obvious enough to suggest patterns, but instead looked too much like chaos to the reader--like looking for some kind of order in the digits of an irrational number like pi: we suspect it's there but haven't found it. In fact, I wonder if the reader could even have suspected that the pattern was there in my manuscript without more prompting.....

So I have reordered the poems, putting poems similar in theme and tone together, and I think it is a stronger manuscript now. I hope so, anyway, since I have abandoned the more innovative approach for a more standard one.

When considering how to reorganize the manuscript, I had a look at older posts I've written on the matter, like this one and this one, and followed the links there. All that hard work of finding resources back then is paying off again now. Or anyway, I hope it pays off.

I remember reading somewhere (wish I had a source for you but I don't!) that there should be at minimum three reasons why any given poem is where it is in the manuscript. Not just one reason, but three, at least! That's a hard standard to uphold.  But for the most part I was able to, with a few poems having only two discernible reasons to be where they are. Unless I fished around for fairly contrived reasons....

So that's that. For now.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

More Science in Song!

Check out this amazing 23-year-old musician and scientist Tim Blais (introduced here by Robert Krulwich of Radiolab fame) explaining string theory to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody. (For a better show, bigger screen, click on the link just under my embedding of the video.)

And here's a link to A Capella Science, Blais' YouTube channel showcasing his other songs.

And if that isn't enough wonderful stuff for one day, the Easter Island heads have bodies!  (Found this out about this article in The Wall Breakers by following poet Sandra Beasley on Twitter. Who knew!)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


The other day in a used bookstore I came across Sheila Nickersons' Disappearance: A Map: A Meditation on Death & Loss in the High Latitudes, a book about people who have disappeared never to be seen again in Alaska. Having two members of my extended family who fall into this category (sort of) I bought the book. And have been basically disappointed.

Perhaps I shouldn't have read the blurb stating that Nickerson is a poet. Perhaps then I wouldn't have been so disappointed at how poorly her attempt to use the collage technique, which she apparently gleaned from Lady Sarashina's As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams (eleventh-century Japan), worked with Nickerson's own feeble personal snippets. There is quite a bit of history here, worth reading the book if you just want to know about the losses of human life to natural elements in the history since western people have attempted to colonize Alaska (Nickerson is quite unworried about the losses of the native peoples, unless they concurred with the loss of westerners), but if you are looking for good writing and/or meaningful meditations, look elsewhere.

Maybe it is the lack of insight this book gave me on my family's own losses, from different sides of the family and a decade and half apart, that makes me bitter about this book. Maybe in that case I cannot be a good judge of this book. You be the judge:

My father's stepfather, the favored one in a string of stepfathers, disappeared in a boating accident in Alaska when my father was 14 years old. I don't know much about it because my father doesn't talk much about his childhood at all. I know Dewey worked on the Alaskan pipeline and that's why my father, his sisters, and his mother all moved up there with him. I know my dad and his mother both loved Dewey more than any of the other men that came and went. Somehow as a child I had the impression that Dewey drowned while building the pipeline, on the job, but later I was told this wasn't true. Dewey apparently died while fishing with friends. I also have the impression that my father witnessed Dewey's drowning, but I'm not sure that is true. I'm not even sure if Dewey's body was recovered, which would make it less of a disappearance than a death. As I said, we don't talk about it. Someone told me that Dewey and his friends had been drinking and that had something to do with the failure of a rescue, and since my father doesn't "believe" in alcohol, this may be why the story has never been explained to me in any kind of satisfactory detail. In our family, if we don't talk about something, it doesn't happen, didn't happen. It too disappears.

The other disappearance was my mother's brother, her only sibling, at age twenty-two, in what was at the time the worst mountain-climbing accident in US history. An inexperienced climber, with Mt. McKinley being his first big climb, my uncle is apparently cited, in at least one of the book-length exposés published in the aftermath, as one of the weaknesses contributing to the loss of seven of twelve members of the expedition, lost in what has been called the worst storm on record. I don't know much about this either, as we don't talk about it, and the books on the expedition, which sat on my grandparent's bookshelves all my life, always were off-limits to me, or so I perceived them to be. I'm not sure how much of the taboo comes from me myself: after I'd already left home one of my younger sisters apparently did a school project on the expedition, something that would have been unthinkable to me. Actually, I still haven't read either book, despite the fact that as an adult now I could go out and purchase copies without consulting or disturbing any member of my family. That's how deeply I feel the taboo, which began with the lack of talking about my uncle Stephen, except in whispers.

I do remember being told that my grandparents had cancelled a scholarship established at my uncle's alma mater in his name when the school's drama department staged a play based on the book that portrayed both my uncle and the leader of expedition in a poor light. I remember being asked to leave the room when the expedition leader unexpectedly dropped by my grandparents' home when I happened also to be visiting; he had been blamed in the media for inviting my inexperienced uncle on the trip and thereby endangering everyone, and he likewise blamed himself for that and more. At that time, my grandparents uncharacteristically spoke to me a little about the events; they said Joe came by periodically to apologize to them again; they also observed that his life had been ruined by the burden, the loss of seven climbers.

Perhaps the taboo on the subject of my uncle and the accident was further perpetuated by my lack of asking questions despite the silence. I am complicit in his disappearance in our family. I have written about it once. Only once. (Directly, only once. Indirectly, also once, changing him into a different relative in case my mother read my poem. But my mother never reads my poems.) But I dream about my uncle Stephen, though I was only two years old when he disappeared and don't remember him. He worked night shifts at the post office sorting mail during college, and for awhile lived with my newlywed parents. One of his chores was to feed me my nighttime bottle when he got home from the post office. He gave me a blue toy jeep as a present, and my sister Jennifer a green jeep. My mother kept those jeeps when I was a child but I don't know where they are now.

This is what I dream: I am at the bottom of a snow-covered mountain, and there is someone running down the mountain towards me, and it is him. My uncle has come back, and he is calling for me. In reality, his body has never been recovered. My grandparents used to take trips to Alaska regularly. They said it was a beautiful place. They said they felt close to their son there. I've never been. One of my younger sisters went to visit a college friend who was from there. My sister went to the Denali National Park offices, where she found that a memorial had been constructed, listing my uncle's name on it as one lost to the mountain. The park service never contacted our family to let us know they had done this. If my sister hadn't gone there, we still wouldn't know.

We still don't know.

Friday, September 6, 2013

What's Neat on the Net: Visual+

Here's what's neat on the net, according to me, and leaning for some reason to the visual this time:

1) Matt Kish, originator and artist who did Moby Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Each Page, of which I am a huge fan, has now announced (according to the Tin House blog) his next project, pictures for Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Go, Matt! We can't wait!

2) TAXI is featuring Ukrainian artist Shupliak Oleg's portraits in the medium of optical illusion. You won't believe this. Check out Anthea Quay's article.

3) If you subscribe to the Tupelo Press e-newsletter, you will have received an email for a buy-one-get-one-free offer (I don't find it on their website otherwise, but could be wrong). If you don't subscribe, do it--they have lots of sales that they will notify you of, and if you subscribe now, maybe you can get in on this one too. Scroll to the bottom of the page linked here, and do it now!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Hybrids Highlighted

I've been largely sub-invested in this blog since I started my masters course a year and a half ago, and further uninvested during my past month of traveling. Unfortunately, while my studying semester goes into its last busy month and my next teaching semester concurrently begins, I don't anticipate the circumstances improving.

However, may I suggest some reading that is worthy of your time, by an essayist I envy, on the timely topic of hybrids. Find Lia Purpura's "Why Some Hybrids Work and Others Don't" at the latest issue of Diagram, and enjoy observations such as "in a satyr, the wild part stays wild, the cultivated part stays cultivated. Satyrs are complicated but consistent."