By | 1 November 2017

There are a number of works in this issue that, to me, perform similarly audacious, mind-boggling, and, occasionally, illegal moves. This is not to say that poetry is capable of producing mathematical truths or even that we would want it to, but, rather, that it has the ability to remind us through its many linguistic ploys, performances and gambits that truths exist. One such work is the series of poems with matching collages from a forthcoming book, Numbers, by Rachel Blau DuPlessis. In the accompanying author’s statement, DuPlessis remarks,

In part these meditations try to fill numbers with the same interesting ambiguities as words. That’s at least one theme. Another is imperfection – π, as you know, is an irrational number and no one has yet found it repeat, though people have tried out to more than a trillion places. Yet the circle – whose circumference is calculated using a ratio of pi is a ‘perfect’ geometric figure. These poems go into that gap between the perfect / complete and the imperfect / continuing and try to investigate. These are not the poems of a mathematician, just a person.

I cried on reading the five poems which DuPlessis has kindly allowed us to publish here, perhaps partly in response to the humility and tenderness with which language is shown to approach the formidable indifference of the mathematical real.

For Pam Brown, the answer to the problem of which title to choose for a forthcoming book is solved by deeming all posited titles equal to the task. ‘random index of useless titles’ triggers the problem of how such a book might be marketed and distributed –which title to display on the spine, what is the relation of the title to the book, etc. –thus revisiting the Bertrand Russell-inspired Grelling-Nelson paradox that poses the problem of ‘the catalogue of all catalogues that don’t list themselves’. As Joseph Goosey’s excursional ‘Babysitting’ has it, ‘Maggot Therapy’ is ‘a decent title / for something but / where to put it’.

All of the poems assembled here are members of the set titled Cordite 83: MATHEMATICS. Exactly what the inclusion of these works says about poetry, publishing, mathematics and language is perhaps more easily understood through examination of the included poems and, more speculatively / spectrally, of those I was unable to include (such as translations, audio and visual works, etc.), due to my own organisational failings, or unforeseen eventualities, or the usual spatial and temporal constraints.

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