... & it sounds like a rather detached & mandarin approach to poetry, no? Indeed.

Math is only one possible element of composition, obviously. & another way to look at it is this : often the structure interacts dialectically or symbiotically with other elements.

When the language poets et al. - back in the 80s - were trying to infuse a political stance to their poetry by way of linguistic theory & philosophy, I was doing something simpler : I tried to apply old poetic forms to political themes. Thus I wrote a sestina about homelessness :


Downtown is gleaming, a nest of glass
Scant refuge for the homeless and the poor
Who trudge along under looming towers
Hungry, frazzled, begging small change
And subject to the better sort of people
Whose eyes reflect the glitter of the city

And so many circles animate the city
Captured in the high gloss of the glass
What's taken for the playground of the people
Erases every doorstep of the poor
In sprawling ellipses of loose change
Under the stolid mystery of these towers

Under the bright conundrum of these towers
These measuring rods allotting every city
Gyroscopes adjusting every change
By whirling speculation in the glass
The downward spirals of the ornery poor
Set stirring turbid shadows in the people

And shuttling promotions of the people
Forecast by divination in the towers
(Who's growing rich and who remaining poor)
Start dancing fevers in the chattering city
And snarl the artist in his broken glass
Frail craft undone by overmastering change

When fortune is the favored end of change
Suburbia the limbo of the people
And tender conscience faints before the glass
Rocketing skyward in pretentious towers
To serve the sleek imaginary city
Or swell the sullen rancor of the poor

Meanwhile the rhetoricians of the poor
In campus pockets rummaging for change
Inscribe the true authoritative city
And mint sterling mementos of the people
Studies wherein the mind serenely towers
Over safe specimens tacked up under glass

So let's raise a glass to the dizzy city -
A toast to towers, and all red-faced people!
And drink for a change among the homespun poor.

(Perhaps this poem only reveals how hopelessly mandarin & ivory-tower I am myself.)

(I came by a very roundabout way to "formalism" - via Mandelstam, to the Renaissance poets, to Villon, etc.)

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