Mary Cresswell: Math Poetry


The fact is that computers, like people,
have no problem remembering the messy stuff:
it’s forgetting they can’t do.

How much memory can you sell me? I want it all, asleep and awake, at the light touch of a finger. I want the blood to stay liquid, the bones never to rise again, the stink to stay undissipated in either still or moving air.

Forget bloody algorithms, archives, downloads, codices, indices, books, paper-brittle files to fragment into contemplation, make me rest on my heels, make me wonder at all this dust and cold coffee, ask what I am really after and is it worth it.

I have seen you watching action glowing in the dark bodies twisting, coupling, dying out as the power dies leaving images burnt on memory ready to retrieve. We know our passion is present; our passion is action.

You know, too, such frenzies are best gulped down fresh before some ungodly troika variously rendered as reason, recall, reflection clatters up the driveway like unwelcome parents coming home early because they forgot the key, when you thought they would be out all night and leave you to it with all your mindless friends.


City Lights



Editor's Note: Don't miss "Why Poets Sometimes Think in Numbers," Carol Dorf's introduction to math poetry in TW.



Art Information

  • “City Lights” © Lois Shelden; used by permission


Mary CresswellMary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on New Zealand's Kapiti Coast. She is a retired copy editor and took up writing poetry about a dozen years ago. Her third book, Trace Fossils, was published in early 2011.

For more information, please see her profile on the New Zealand Book Council website.




Lesley and David, I agree. I've read this poem over and over and still can't get enough of it. It speaks to me deeply at this point in my life. Mary, thank you for this.

This poem is breathless. It moves as if there is no time to pause for breathing. It EARNS the structure of the prose poem -- a line that moves and moves and moves without the interruption of breaking lines. Ordinarily, I am suspicious of the prose poem. I worry that the form is the easy way out. NOT so here. This one invites me to return. To read again. Again. THANKS, Mary Creswell!

David, your comment about the prose structure of this poem being earned is fascinating—and I wish you'd write something for TW about why you're usually suspicious of prose poems. If you're interested, please get in touch.

Thank you all - your comments are much appreciated. I would also like to hear more of what you have to say about prose poems, David. I have barely started playing around with the form, and I feel as though I were winging it. The form appeals in a way other structures don't, and I'm interested in how the dynamics work. So, I second Martha's comment.

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