Friday, March 05, 2010

Poetry Friday -- Numbers

Fractions are on stage in fourth grade -- it's that time of year when every skill that's been mastered (hopefully) so far gets a part in the play. Multiplication and division are still the stars, but they wear different costumes and are sometimes unrecognizable at first. The reason for understanding factors and multiples stands proudly in the spotlight with its chest thrust out, and the moment when the audience can anticipate the moves of every character on the stage, knowing almost before they do who's greater, lesser, equal, improper or mixed...oh, that is among my favorites every year.

Numbers and the four operations of mathematics come to life for Mary Cornish in her poem, Numbers. I give you two stanzas; click through to Poetry 180 for the whole poem.

by Mary Cornish

I like the generosity of numbers.
The way, for example,
they are willing to count
anything or anyone:
two pickles, one door to the room,
eight dancers dressed as swans.
There's an amplitude to long division,
as it opens Chinese take-out
box by paper box,
inside every folded cookie
a new fortune.

The whole poem is here; the round up is at Teaching Books.


  1. Cool poem. Never thought of math in quite those terms before. (One impressed commenter bellowing three loud cheers.)

  2. Anonymous11:10 AM

    Oh, fish times fish. If only it had felt that visceral when I was learning math...

  3. This reminds me of when my son was two years old. I was teaching him about subtraction. I would say: "If I gave you four cookies and your two cousins showed up, how many cookies would you have?"

    "Two," he said.

    (Also, I taught him manners. :-D)


  4. Love it.

    I've always liked math, and it can seem that people want to make enemies of math and poetry. Not me! Numbers make poetry possible (at least form or metered poetry.) I've come to appreciate their generosity in sharing the shape of a poetic form with me.

  5. Yes! This is my kind of math.Especially the sock.

  6. Mary Lee, I adore the poem, but even more I enjoyed your rumination on the theatrics of math at this time of year in a fourth-grade classroom. Wouldn't it be fun to do a book of poems about those moments of "soar" in teaching, when they take it away and we can spin up above and watch it all happening in wonder?

  7. Anonymous5:54 PM

    Okay, not a fan of math (why I am in the library) but this is a wonderful poem about math.

  8. Love that comparison of long division of to Chinese take-out boxes. I'm not 100% sure why it works, but it feels so right!

  9. Since you're a poetry lover, I'd like to invite you and your readers to join in on my poetry survey. I am looking for a list of your 10 favorite classic poems. Read more about it here.


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