Patterns Amid the Poems
I’ve always enjoyed the mysteries of mathematics, and I’ve always been pretty good at juggling numbers. However, even if I had known I was going to get a grade B in my GCSE examinations at age fifteen, I doubt that I’d have decided to study the subject until I was eighteen years old. Goodness knows why the UK Conservative government are talking about making children study the subject until eighteen years of age. I mean, topics like simultaneous and quadratic equations, vectors and matrices (all topics that I studied for my GCSE examinations), when have you ever been stood standing (to use a Yorkshirism) in a supermarket queue and thought, if only I’d studied vectors harder, I could have figured out how quickly this queue was moving?! Instead I studied English Language and Literature until age eighteen, which means that I can tell you that the ?! sign is called an interrobang, and I think my life is far richer for knowing that 😉
So I feel a bit uneasy about bringing Maths (or math, if you live in America) into today’s poetry blog post! Don’t worry though, I’ll keep it as simple as I can 🙂
Words meeting worlds
spawning a myriad thesaurus points,
genociding a kaleidoscope of others
with a single zoom.
across the room
a breath of fractal romance
amongst the leaves
like an ovum.
* ‘… whose long-time behaviour
under repeated iteration …
can change drastically
under arbitrarily small perturbations’ (Wikipedia)
Mandel-what? You may well ask! I am no mathematical expert, but a Mandelbrot set is a graphical representation of a fractal … and no, that doesn’t mean anything at all to me either! I first became aware of them when they appeared as graphical computer files, simply because they looked like a cliff face at the seaside. Wikipedia says that they were ‘first defined and drawn in 1978 by Robert W. Brooks and Peter Matelski as part of a study of Kleinian groups.’ Wikipedia then continues that, at an IBM research centre, Benoit Mandelbrot first saw a visualization of the set. So that’s where their name comes from and, by process, where this poem’s name comes from!
In the above image, I believe it shows a cliff-like Mandelbrot, but I’d lost my sight before I started hunting for a suitable picture. I found some on Twitter, and I contacted the person who created this one. I don’t have his details anymore, but he did give me permission to use it if I ever needed an illustration to go with my poem, so I hope his permission is still granted. I had actually hoped to print an A3-size laminated copy that I could use when I was doing readings, so that members of the audience could see for themselves what a Mandelbrot looked like. I didn’t find a local printing service that was able to produce what I wanted, so I gave up on the idea!
The thing I found fascinating about Mandelbrot images, was the way you can zoom in and in and in, and the same patterns emerge at every level of detail. That was the effect I wanted to portray in this poem. To my mind, a thesaurus behaves like that; you can look one word up and then find its synonyms, and then proceed to synonyms of those synonyms. As the poem imparts, spiralling and sprawling, spawning a myriad thesaurus points, and genociding a kaleidoscope of others.
Giving the name Julia to one of these fractal sets felt very anthropomorphic. Maybe a mathematical graph isn’t technically an animal, but the way it can keep re-inventing itself with every zoom, makes it feel very alive 🙂
Using information from Wikipedia as a footnote and presenting that in a poetic arrangement, seemed the perfect way to close this poem.
Do you dream of knights in armour shining?
With this rose between my teeth
I turn my collar to the wind
and feign attack with verbal phrases
but seek no glory, so to speak.
Passing largely unobserved
into another morning
without a flag unfurling
without a second warning
and just this heart upon my sleeve.
A knight in ordinary coat
holds on to hope
in love believes
sharpens his pen
and quietly writes the story.
Although this poem is found mid-way through my pamphlet, it is usually the one I choose to end my poetry sets with. Unlike Mandelbrot, its beauty lies in its simplicity. It’s the story of a man who wishes that fictional princes were, like him, dressed in an ordinary coat rather than shining armour 🙂
The image of the knight in ordinary coat turning his collar to the wind, owes its inspiration to the song, Ramblin’ Boy, by Donovan. I’ve known this song since I were a wee nipper – my Dad had a cassette tape of Donovan songs, and I often used to listen to it. Dad and I went to see Donovan perform in Harrogate, sometime circa 1991. Donovan’s ramblin’ boy sings this: I turn my collar to the cold, I pull my cap down low. My ramblin’ prince in ordinary coat turns his collar to the wind.
The only other thing to really mention is in the final stanza. I did ponder whether the line about sharpening his pen was a little odd. Obviously one sharpens a pencil, not a pen, but I intended it metaphorically. You can write soft words that pack a punch through their incisive observations, and that was what I was aiming for.
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