Math Haiku

Last year, after chatting with some of my students about their poetry, I decided to attend a free poetry workshop at my local branch of the New York Public Library. The focus was haiku, a form of poetry that, despite not writing many, I’ve always found appealing ever since I was asked to write one in second grade.

Haiku is a succinct art form that forces you to be strategic in your decision-making. With 17 syllables to work with, there’s little wiggle room in a haiku. Because its syllabic nature is numerical (5-7-5), like math, it demands logic and efficiency. Carefully chosen words and phrases are the expectation, yet ideas must be surfaced and communicated with precision. Beautiful math is often considered elegant, and haiku mirrors this in its simplicity. Even then, because of its brevity, most haiku are open to multiple perspectives. It’s kind of hard to establish a context with 17 syllables.

After the workshop, with newly-discovered energy to unearth my inner-poet, I started writing my own haiku. It’s been quite fun. To have more of an appreciation for its Japenese roots, I’m reading about the history of haiku in On Haiku by Hiroaki Sato.

At any rate, around the same time as the workshop, I came across Patrick Honner’s post about math haiku. Wanting to enrich the writing that I’m doing in my students, all the while bring my budding interest of haiku to them, I followed up with Patrick about his post earlier this year. He didn’t disappoint. About two weeks ago, I asked my kids to write two math-themed haiku. Teenagers’ creativity never ceases to blow me away. Here is some of their haiku:


to find the inverse
we must flip the y and x
then we solve the rest


life, like factoring
grouping ourselves to fit in
to find we’re alone


one plus one is two
two times two plus one is five
five, my favorite


if you need some help
ask the mathematician
who’s that? look within


the missing value
was fading in confusion
after being solved


squares have sharp edges
but they have 90 degrees
it is like summer


it is an odd plot
for the positive function
to graph negative


between the sequence
lies a common ratio
use the equation


allow math inside
a stream of numbers and facts
filling the silence


math is made for whites
that is the common stigma
that idea should change



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