Geek Speak explores creative relationships between mathematics and poetry

Author: BHSU Communications/Friday, February 9, 2018/Categories: Events, College of Business and Natural Sciences, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, Community, Faculty, 2018

Right and left brains collide this Thursday as two professors from seemingly contrasting areas of study combine their passions to create intricately structured art.

In their Geek Speak, “Fano-Plane and Di-Graph Poetics: Intersections of Math and Poetry,” Dr. Dan May, assistant professor of mathematics, and Dr. Courtney Huse Wika, associate professor of English and director of the University Honors Program, will show their creative approach to blending mathematics and poetry. This speak will be held Thursday, Feb. 15 at 4 p.m. in Jonas 305. All Geek Speaks are free and open to the public.

The lecture will give an introduction to the history between math and poetry, a relationship with roots that can be traced through the centuries. May and Huse Wika will also show examples of poetry they’ve created through their imaginative experiments. May explains that the lecture portion won’t last long, and the audience will soon be involved in their own creative process.
May explains this process, “It is poetry in which the poem’s structure is determined by math. We’ve examined a couple of different mathematical structures and used these visualizations of these structures as templates for composing poetry.”

“To introduce audience members to the concept, we have an interactive portion where people will be up out of their seats, split into groups, and asked to arrange themselves in a mathematically meaningful way,” says May. “It’s more or less a puzzle.”

After this hands-on introduction to the underlying mathematical concepts, attendees will take the page themselves, writing math-guided poetry. “They shouldn’t be daunted by phrases like ‘projective plane’ and ‘lyric verse,’” says May. “All you need is some basic problem solving and the courage to create.”

May and Huse Wika have been collaborating on this creative work since fall of 2014, when their ideas were born out of May’s first Geek Speak that Huse Wika attended.

“I mentioned that this fun, mathematical object could be used as a guide for writing poetry, and Dr. Huse Wika said, ‘Let’s try it out in my creative writing class!’ We wrote poetry and developed a few academic papers that we presented at multiple conferences,” says May. “It’s always been a dream to be working on this. Ever since I first started studying math seriously, my goal was to look at the overlap and connections between mathematics and art, specifically creative writing.

The Geek Speak lecture series, sponsored by the BHSU Honors program, features academic discussion and topics not normally discussed in the traditional classroom. The goal of the weekly lectures is to expose students to diversity within the disciplines. Some Geek Speaks are also presented at the Jacket Zone store located on Main Street in downtown Spearfish.
  • Feb. 22: “A little more than kin and less than kind” by Dr. Amy Fuqua, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Graduate Studies and professor of English
  • March 1: “Trash Has Two Parents: The Person Who Threw It and the Person Who Walked by…” by Dr. Jami Stone, professor of mathematics education
  • March 15: “Wonder Woman, Board Breaking and Performance Art” by Naomi Even-Aberle, instructor of mathematics
  • March 22: “The Geometry of Redistricting,” by Daniel Swenson, associate professor of mathematics
  • April 5: “Sustainability, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Making the Connection” by Petrika Peters, sustainability coordinator for BHSU
  • April 12: "Rebel Girl: Celebrating a Century of Exchange Between American Popular Music and Feminism” by Dan May, professor of mathematics, and Dr. Laura Colmenero-Chilberg, professor of sociology
  • April 19: "Avi Jain: Science, the expert problem, and mass hysteria” by Max Marc, professor of business
  • April 26: “From Bach to Braindrill: Exploring the similarities between Metal and Classical music and fandom” by David Berberick, professor of music
  • TBA: University Honors Capstone Defenses
To read short descriptions of each lecture topic, visit

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

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