BHSU News & Events

Dr. Dan May, assistant professor of mathematics at Black Hills State University, presents this week’s Geek Speak lecture on the connections between math and poetry. The lecture is free, open to the public, and will be held Thursday, Nov. 6 at 4 p.m. in Jonas Hall 110 on the BHSU Campus. |

There’s poetry in the numbers.

Dr. Daniel May, assistant professor of mathematics at Black Hills State University, will converge the left and right brain Thursday when he presents a public lecture on math and poetry. The lecture, part of the Geek Speak series, will be held Nov. 6 at 4 p.m. in Jonas Hall room 110 on the BHSU campus.

“The overlap between these two fields is interesting for a Geek Speak lecture because this material wouldn’t show up in any class students might take, yet it’s very interesting,” said May.

The BHSU Geek Speak lectures are sponsored by the University Honors Program to expose students and the community to academic diversity beyond typical classroom courses.

A reader of poetry, May said his lecture grew from his work connecting geometry, discrete math, and poetry. May’s article on this topic, “Complete graphs in the Rubáiyát,” was published this fall in a special poetry and mathematics issue of the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts.

May will address three categories of the math/poetry relationship during his lecture.

“First, I’ll deconstruct poems that are basically math problems written as poetry such as temple hymns from various cultures,” said May.

Next, May will share poems that use the concepts and ideas of math to set emotional tone and mood. The third category involves using math principles to construct poetry.

“On the surface, some poems do not appear to be about math at all; they have no reference to mathematics in the text. But the structure and the underpinnings of the poetry are very mathematical,” said May.

The title of the lecture, “For Pairs of Lips to Kiss Maybe / Requires No Trigonometry,” uses a line of a poem by Frederick Soddy.

“Soddy, a Noble Prize-winning chemist, published a poem that is basically a description of a mathematical theorem, the Descartes Circle Theorem,” said May. “There is a really elegant formula that describes the relationship between tangent circles that touch, or kiss.”

And that’s where math meets poetic emotion.

“My favorite part of the title is the ‘maybe,’” said May. “In a poetic sense the title of my lecture implies that perhaps, for pairs of lips to kiss, maybe does involve some trigonometry,” said May.

May said those attending the lecture will have the opportunity to construct poetry themselves and that he hopes to find a balance between keeping the math-minded attendees happy and not running the literature-lovers out of the room.

“I will reference higher-level math, but we’ll also address accessible geometric and algebraic concepts most will have seen at the high school level,” said May.

Upcoming Geek Speak topics:

Nov. 13 – “Lincoln and Gettysburg: From Rhetorical Artistry to National Totem” hosted by Dr. Adam Gaffey

Nov. 20 – “The Geek Chic” hosted by Dr. Robb Campbell

Dec. 4 – The Fall Defense

To confirm topics, dates, and room numbers, check the BHSU Campus Calendar at www.BHSU.edu/events

For more information, contact Dr. Courtney Huse Wika, director of the University Honors Program and assistant professor of English, at 605-642-6918 or Courtney.HuseWika@BHSU.edu.