Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pi Day and the Nobel Prize Poet

For fans of numerical information or the history of mathematical discoveries, March 14 represents a day of celebration. Since the date may be written as 3-14, the digits correspond with 3.14, the opening series of digits associated with “pi.” (The pi moment during the day is at 1:59:26, more fully reflecting the start of pi: 3.1415926.) This irrational number—one that never can be stated exactly because its decimal sequence continues to infinity—always has amazed mathematicians and held a primary position of curiosity for many non-mathematicians.

Perhaps the best known and most fascinating of figures for those concerned with calculations, pi has been a center of attention for centuries. Indeed, the computation for pi is implied in a passage of the Old Testament. Its exact determination has been a riddle for all civilizations, including the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and the Greeks of ancient eras. Not until the sixteenth century were European scholars able to compute pi to as many as a couple dozen decimal places.

In fact, only in recent decades has pi been calculated with great precision, as the mid-twentieth century invention of computers took over for humans, at first figuring pi to thousands of digits. By the 1980s calculations of pi extended to hundreds of thousands of digits. Now, super computers have stretched the stated sequence of known digits to millions, then to billions, and on to more than a trillion decimal places. Beyond serving as a source of trivia and fascination, pi has contributed greatly to solving a profusion of previously puzzling problems in mathematics and science, enabling the contemporary understanding of many various scientific equations, including those explaining the DNA double helix.

A multitude of pi enthusiasts, mathematicians and non-mathematicians alike, maintain an ongoing interest in the properties of pi. Some study its long history and show their devotion by memorizing pi to as many decimal places as they can. I know this because my own son, with a collection of books about pi in his personal library, can be counted among the fans of pi, many of which have created organizations or web sites on the topic. In addition, tests sometimes are conducted to measure one’s memorization of the number’s digits.

When he was twelve, my son decided to express his interest by memorizing the first 1500 digits of pi, which he was able to accomplish. When he was prepared to recite the 1500 digits, which would have stood as a world record for memorization in the early 1970s, he succeeded by reeling off the decimal place numbers in approximately 20 minutes. Although the extraordinary feat may seem admirable, even if extreme, my son’s status has not approached that of the current world record holder for such memorization of pi, whose achievement is a standard presently set at 100,000 decimal places.

Readers will discover Wislawa Szymborska, the 1996 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, among those who have been inspired in some way by pi. Born in Poland in 1923, Szymborska studied literature and sociology as a university student, but she has displayed interest in a wide array of topics within the nearly twenty collections of poetry she has published since 1945, when her first poem appeared in print. As well, she has discussed numerous subjects in her prose pieces. Among the topics about which she has written, science and scientists have been a focus at times. Those individuals, compelled to discovery or invention by a desire to clarify the confusing and chart the unknown, have intrigued her.

In her acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, Szymborska commented: “inspiration is not the exclusive privilege of poets or artists generally. There is, has been, and will always be a certain group of people whom inspiration visits. It’s made up of all those who’ve consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners— and I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous ‘I don’t know.’”

Later in her acceptance presentation, Szymborska went on to say: “This is why I value that little phrase ‘I don’t know’ so highly. It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended. If Isaac Newton had never said to himself ‘I don’t know,’ the apples in his little orchard might have dropped to the ground like hailstones and at best he would have stooped to pick them up and gobble them with gusto. Had my compatriot Marie Sklodowska-Curie never said to herself ‘I don’t know,’ she probably would have wound up teaching chemistry at some private high school for young ladies from good families, and would have ended her days performing this otherwise perfectly respectable job. But she kept on saying ‘I don’t know,’ and these words led her, not just once but twice, to Stockholm, where restless, questing spirits are occasionally rewarded with the Nobel Prize.

From these observations, Szymborska drew a conclusion: “Poets, if they're genuine, must also keep repeating ‘I don’t know.’” She suggests the poet needs to follow the lead of scientists and mathematicians who seek to brighten the path of understanding for others and who use enlightenment to eliminate ignorance. However, she also has been known to discuss her complex subjects with a sharp sense of skepticism or biting wit and delightful humor, delivered with the creativity of language a poet can contribute.

Therefore, I offer here one of Wislawa Szymborska’s poems, an example that exhibits her humor and inventive employment of language, and a poem that seems most appropriate for March 14 (3-14), Pi Day:


The admirable number pi:
three point one four one.
All the following digits are also just a start,
five nine two because it never ends.
It can’t be grasped, six five three five, at a glance,
eight nine, by calculation,
seven nine, through imagination,
or even three two three eight in jest, or by comparison
four six to anything
two six four three in the world.
The longest snake on earth ends at thirty-odd feet.
Same goes for fairy tale snakes, though they make it a little longer.
The caravan of digits that is pi
does not stop at the edge of the page,
but runs off the table and into the air,
over the wall, a leaf, a bird’s nest, the clouds, straight into the sky,
through all the bloatedness and bottomlessness.
Oh how short, all but mouse-like is the comet’s tail!
How frail is a ray of starlight, bending in any old space!
Meanwhile two three fifteen three hundred nineteen
my phone number your shirt size
the year nineteen hundred and seventy-three sixth floor
number of inhabitants sixty-five cents
hip measurement two fingers a charade and a code,
in which we find how blithe the trostle sings!
and please remain calm,
and heaven and earth shall pass away,
but not pi, that won’t happen,
it still has an okay five,
and quite a fine eight,
and all but final seven,
prodding and prodding a plodding eternity
to last.

— Wislawa Szymborska

1 comment:

Jim Murdoch said...

The you might find this article about Kate Bush's song of interest:

Kate Bush sings pi (incorrectly)