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Where Are You When I Need You, James R. Newman?

by Lionel E. Deimel


Passing my bookcase, I see The World of Mathematics—

The four hardbound volumes sitting on my shelf for decades,

A slipcased talisman encompassing mathematics,

An outward sign of a universe within.

I imagine the pages; recall the words of Euler, Newton, von Neumann;

And I shudder—

The print is too big, the pages too small, the articles too few and too short.

Perhaps four tomes are not enough.


The World of Mathematics 
When I was a teenager, James R. Newman’s The World of Mathematics seemed the perfect guide to, well, the world of mathematics. The day I purchased the four hardbound blue volumes in their heavy cardboard slipcase from the department store remainder table was a very significant one in my life. Mathematics, however, turned out to be more complicated.

Written November 12, 1996, this was, I think, the first poem I wrote as an adult. I revised it slightly on March 4, 2001, and, in a fit of artistic embarrassment, did a major rewrite on June 17, 2003. The original was clumsy and pretentious. The current version is less self-consciously “poetic,” the result of  my having learned a few lessons from writing poetry over the last decade. The reader can decide for himself whether I should schedule another rewrite a few years hence, when, it is to be hoped, I know even more about writing poetry.

— LED, 9/28/2005

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