Thursday, February 3, 2022

Poetry Friday: A Mathematical Poem

Hello Poets!

Brrrrrr. It's been cold here. I'm hoping February will give us more of a break in the super cold temperatures of late. Thank you, Elizabeth at Unexpected Intersections for hosting the Poetry Friday hearth this week for warming our fingers.

The inklings are responding to a new challenge from Catherine. 

Find Catherine's blog at: Reading to the Core

I enjoyed clicking through the links she provided of inspiration and examples to think consider. I settled on a form I had never heard of before, N +7. This form originated with French mathematician, Francois Lionnais and writer Raymond Queneau who wanted to bring poetry and mathematics together, according to their philosophy of OULIPO. 

The form is explained here. It's pretty easy--a simple constraint. Replace nouns in an existing poem with the seventh noun following it in a dictionary. The fun comes from a poet's choice of dictionaries. 

Here is a golden shovel Catherine wrote in December taking a striking line from Antonio Damasio's book, Feeling and Knowing: Making Minds Conscious 

When I use the Scholastic Children's Dictionary (Scholastic Inc. 2002) as a constraint, the resulting poem is: 

N+7 poem by Linda after Catherine Flynn's golden shovel

The completed poem is not as fun, perhaps as the process, which was an aha moment for me. This would be a terrific activity to use in a classroom with selected short poems. What a great:
1. Consideration of vibrant language 
2. Close reading
3. Digging into a dictionary with a purpose
4. Talk about what a mathematical formula is
5. Discussion about credit and citing sources

I've already let the Math Coach in my school know I have this activity in my back pocket for a class that might need enrichment or a "different" kind of activity one day. If a class takes me up on it, I'll report back. Thank you, Catherine!

Speaking of reporting back, I have read Marilyn Nelson's book, Augusta Savage: The Shape of a Sculpture's Life (Little, Brown and Company 22). It is as wonderful as I expected it to be. Nelson had very little primary source material to work with. Yet, the poetry rings true from Savage's art and recorded experience. I highly recommend giving it a read. My knowledge of art history has been broadened. That would make Ms. Savage happy.

Oh, stargazers. This image was one of the very first I saw that called out to me as a one-little-word, star

Down-Adown-Derry by Walter de la Mare. Illustrated by Dorothy Lathrop. 1922

Isn't it beautiful? As it turns out, Dorothy P. Lathrop did not get paid for this 1922 illustration! But, it and others for the book did launch her career. 

See the poem inspired by it over on the Star padlet.

Oh, oh, oh! If you get The Slowdown podcast, take a listen to today's poem--The Extravagant Stars by Nicole Callahan. Oh, my stars!


  1. Definitely using this new poem form with kids. I think my students will enjoy it. Your poem resulted in some interesting words. I like "In the winter wording" as a first line.

  2. I've got add the N+7 form to my list of poetry to try, Linda! Your choice of "paleozoic and poison sumac for mincemeat" - conjure an image! I love that you will be sharing this form with your students - 'multiplying' the fun!

  3. Oh my, Linda, I enjoyed reading about this form & then how yours came out from Catherine's. What an unusual creation that really does make sense. I don't have a paper dictionary at home anymore but can find one at the bookstore. Thanks for the Marilyn Nelson shout-out, too!

  4. Good for you for trying a completely new form! The resulting poem has some funny lines, but also some lovely combinations. I especially love "morning glory statements wheel overhead" and, with some minor revisions, "sopranos of the stratosphere."

  5. Interesting to hear about yet another poetic form. I can see that it would definitely be a fun classroom exercise. :)

  6. I was so excited to see your N+7 poem! And that's a great idea to use a student dictionary as a constraint. "Sun tan morning glory statements" and "infinite weathervanes"are just wonderful. Hats off!

  7. Linda, I thank you for introducing me and others to the N+7 poem structure. I shall venture into this new terrain with much anticipation. Nouns and a bit of dictionary delving, sounds like fun.

  8. Linda, I took the long route to get here but am so glad that I finally visited your blog and padlet. Thanks for the new form. It sounds like a great treasure hunt to explore. Your last line of the N + 7 poem calls me to explore.

    1. I loved the Slowdown podcast on Extravagrant Stars. Thank you so much for letting me know about it.

  9. Somehow in my skimming of links, etc. (skimming, always skimming, missing, always missing!), I missed that N+7 form. What unexpected rich word combos you created. I especially love "In the winter wording, lifestyle/slows its pact." Great thoughts for how to use this with students, too!

  10. Ooh, what a fun form! I think it would be fun to use this as the first step in writing your own poem, extracting what you love, building on it, etc. I adore the instrument of sopranos, of stratosphere. Brilliant and serendipitous! And even something about the humpback of creeks intrigues me...Saving this as a writing prompt. Thank you!

  11. What fun! I can't wait to choose a poem and dig into a dictionary with it! And that Slowdown poem! Oh, my. I haven't gotten to that episode, but when I do, it will be double lovely to hear it, knowing that ending is on the way.

  12. Linda, I cannot tell how excited I am to try this absurdist glory of a form! I agree that not all the result are working quite right (I think it would be hard to get mincemeat neatly into very many kinds of poems), but heavens! "suntan morning glory statements," "The instrument of sopranos, of stratosphere" and "the infinite weathervane"--this will really ramp up the metaphors. And thanks for being 1 in 2 women...

  13. What an intriguing approach to exploring a poem! I love some of the serendipitous phrases that this produced, "in a cytoplasm ... of stratosphere." This might be a fun way to create new prompts for yet more poems in a sort of poetic evolution! Thanks for sharing this today and for being part of the Poetry Friday party.

  14. Linda, so sorry I didn't see this post till now--I'm especially interested in mathematical poems. I wasn't familiar with the N+7 and find your poem intriguing. Yes, I see how this would be fun with young writers.
    I love, too, the illustration by Dorothy Lathrop, and your poem "They." The last stanza is haunting, but I was also struck by these lines:
    by lesser lights


Friendly, positive comments and feedback are always welcome here. Please let me know I'm not just whistling in the dark!