Friday, January 8, 2010

Margaret Fieland -- Mathematical Poet

Pupils Make The Grade At Private Schools

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


  1. How cool that you can make math fun! :-)

  2. Making math fun through poetry is a wonderful idea. And I see you do it WELL!

    The Old Silly

  3. Great fun to read your poem!
    Clear and easy to read and understand it too, good work!

  4. What a great poem; it made me laugh.

    I agree with Gayle and Marvin, to be able to make math fun for kids and others is a great ability.


  5. Thanks for this great post about Peggy. Her poems are terrific! As a teacher who taught math for many years, I can see these poems used in the classroom to get kids excited about the subject. Way to go!

  6. Great writing! I've learned that capturing the childs attention is the best way to engage them in learning. Your poems do that!

  7. What an interesting and fun idea. Thanks, Nancy, for posting, and thanks, Margaret, for sharing your math poetry with us.

  8. Maybe you could do kids birthday parties as a mathmegician, half mathmaticican and half magician.

    Stephen Tremp

  9. Thanks for visiting me today, Margaret. Your poems are fun. I can see our other visitors enjoyed them as much as I did.

    Thanks everyone for visiting!! Have a great day!

  10. Margaret, I know a few people who can relate to what your poem says! I love your style. Thanks for making me smile today!

  11. I do think it takes a special talent to write poetry about math and Margaret definitely has that gift. I loved the poem.

  12. Wow, so interesting! Thanks for sharing, Margaret!!

  13. Your poems are the most unique poetry I have ever read. I think they would be a benefit to school children. A book of these poems should be marketed to schools and homeschool parents. There we've taken care of literature and math,LOL! I Just love them!

  14. What an fascinating combination of interests and skills! I envy poets and math whizzes--I am neither!

  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  16. What a lovely and unusual idea, to combine maths (UK spelling!) with poetry. But why not, as maths is something you're so good at? When did you write your first maths poem "Round", Margaret?


  17. Helena, it was several years ago -- I don't remember exactly when ..

    Here is a link to the poem.

  18. Wow, to pick two of my worst subjects and turn them into creative art can I express it...amazing!!!

    What a gift. And I loved the poem even though I am poetry illiterate, I so enjoyed it.


  19. Thanks to everyone who commented -- glad y'all enjoyed the poems. As I often told my kids when they were growing up, I actually was paying attention in math and English (and French) -- it was social studies where my mind wandered.

  20. Carrie @

    I'm pleasantly surprised that a math poem is actually cute and entertaining. Really, I did laugh at the end! Good job.

  21. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  22. Amiable post and this fill someone in on helped me alot in my college assignement. Thank you as your information.