Margaret Fieland brings an unusual talent to poetry: expertise in mathematics. She discusses her work in this short article.
Writing math poems
My undergrad major was mathematics and my grad degree is in computer science, so in a way I'm a natural to be writing poems about mathematics. However, I started writing poetry as a teenager to express the usual teen angst and went on to write poetry for family holidays and the like and when I started writing poetry for publication it was about family and personal life. I never even considered writing poetry about mathematics.
I did, however, write "Round". Round was sparked by my memory of a discussion in a college physics class about the rate at which a cup of coffee would cool and how the shape of the cup played into it. I didn't love college physics, and this was easily the most memorable thing in the whole course. The other thing was a memory from a math class about the sphere having the least surface area per unit volume of any solid figure.
So I wrote "Round" and sent it off and it was accepted. A friend read it and pronounced the finest math poem she'd ever read.
Huh? This is a math poem? She did manage to convince me, and to consider writing a series of them. When I started on the series, I went looking for books on the history of mathematics, and found mighty slim pickings. One book on the story of counting for kids and one or two fairly serious, heavy tomes for grownups. I did find a few interesting articles online, but not a book of the kind I wanted.
I had initially intended not to submit any of the poems to journals, as I intend to publish them as a collection. I did submit several to Umbrella for the special school subjects fall issue and had two accepted, and submitted five this past October to the winter issue of Cyclamens and Swords (yet to appear), as the theme, ticklish subjects, seemed another good fit. I've subbed a query to one publisher and had them reply asking for some sample poems, which I sent them, and am still waiting to hear back. I'm also working on a MG/YA novel about a girl who wants to go to Music camp, and continuing to write poetry.
There is, however, still that little voice that says I should write that non-fiction math book for kids I couldn't find...
Enjoy this example of one of her poems.
Prices Reduced by Fifteen Percent
by Margaret Fieland
There's a giant price reduction,
it says prices are a fraction
just a teeny, tiny fraction
of the price they were before,
but I don't know how to figure
what the price is and how big your
really really big reduction
from the price it was before.
Since I didn't pay attention
when my teacher came to mention
how to figure a percent on
any item in the store,
now I do not know my fractions,
so I don't resist attractions
of the really big reductions
on the items in the store.
I succumb to the seduction
of their really big reduction,
but I wish I'd paid attention --
then I wouldn't be so poor.
More of Margaret's poems are available at Cyclamens and Swords. You can view them at