Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Joanne Growney
Dear Editor,

I read with interest and enjoyment Heather McHugh's article ["The Fabric: A Poet's Vesalius," December 2007], and was both startled and moved by the poetic beauty of the anatomical drawings. I write to comment on a small point. McHugh says:

One everything is accomplished by the sheer patient summing up of all of its component parts...Scholars, theorists, historians, mathematicians may be blessed with such gifts. To reach a given point, they build the road to which they get there—painstaking, legalistic, cumulative, horizontal.

It has been ongoing and careless that persons outside mathematics confuse an accumulated and systematized body of mathematical knowledge, developed over centuries, with the work of individual mathematicians—for whom discovery is sudden and holistic, arriving "in a slant of light, a snap of understanding across a field of patterns" [McHugh]. In addition, outsiders also may confuse the pages of logical detail that constitute a proof of a conjecture, turning it into a theorem, with the "aha" moment of discovery that sets a mathematician on the journey to find a proof. Those who are fluent in the language of mathematics read it with awe and awareness of the elegance, beauty, and startling insight of its propositions and formulae. It is a sort of poetry.

Silver Spring, Maryland

Originally Published: May 16, 2008

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This prose originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

June 2008

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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