Crossing the Equal Sign

Marion D. Cohen
Meeting Alhambra, ISAMA-BRIDGES Conference Proceedings (2003)
Pages 485–492


The frustration, satisfaction, joy, elegance, and dead ends of doing mathematics are in some ways like those same responses to other arenas in life. In other ways they are different. As a poet, mathematician, and human being, I have had the privilege and anguishes of both. There are many ways in which poetry and mathematics can be linked. One way is to view mathematical concepts and insights as metaphor for life, and vice versa. Indeed, life and mathematics can make fascinating dual metaphors. Math research in itself represents the quest for knowledge, of the most precise kind. Like any other quest, it can be only partially completed. This incompleteness (not unlike that discovered by Godel) can, in some sense, be compensated for by expressing it and this can afford some peace. Not every mathematician feels the need for or pull of this, just as not every of poetry about mathematics. Writing it has helped me visualize, clarify, and in general place the mathematics in my own life, in particular mathematics that did not work out. Indeed, "math poetry" can be a perfect union of life and work.