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

bp

I really like the poems. Thanks for sharing!

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