Thriveni C Mysore reviews Euclid’s Dog by Jordie Albiston

Jordie Albiston, Euclid’s Dog: 100 algorithmic poems. Melbourne: GloriaSMH Press, 2017. ISBN 978-0-9945275-5-4

 

Thriveni C Mysore

 

Great skill of Geometry, Arithmetic, Perspective, Anthropology and other particular creative Art is behind this collection of 100 algorithmic poems, Euclid’s Dog by Jordie Albiston. With this set of skills shadowed by unlike-human patience, the author has worked hard to bring this panoramic poetry into being with surgical precision.

An exotic flower captured in two ways – one by a high resolution photographic camera and one by an artist – may look the same, yet appear different. Poems by Jordie Albiston in Euclid’s Dog are meticulous creations of an artist. These poems are stand-alone marvels of a literary poetic world.

Mathematical Philosophy has been often employed to argue many logical issues including Politics as seen in the History of world politics. But, employing mathematical means to poetical thoughts is something that needs more of intellectual caution than just creative imagination. As the poet explains in relation to ‘plane angle’ (112), one can say the same about her poetry: it is comprised of two separate narratives, one intellectual caution and one creative imagination, both meeting and finding resolution in intense, spectral, philosophical meaning.

The poet lists the eight mathematical concepts used as bases for the forms in Euclid’s Dog and also provides extended notes (111-13) without which the collection of poems would become a series of riddles and puzzles to be solved by the target reader.

Albiston’s 100 algorithmic poems are architectural and are grouped under the section headings: ‘Enunciation’, ‘Machinery’, ‘Proof’ and ‘Conclusion’. The poems do not have titles in the conventional sense; each title is a mathematical form and these are repeatd throughout the collection, making it more intriguing to the target reader.

There has to be a great start or else no starting at all. The first poem of the collection, under ‘Enunciation’ based on Euclid’s Proposition 7, Book 1 of Elements, is about two similar triangles sharing a common base. The vertices of the triangles are joined to form two angles and by principle it cannot be proved that one is greater than the other (1). A logical gap begins and ends here. For example, Theism and Atheism are based on same elemental mystery. The two philosophies can be equal, but is impossible to prove that one is greater than the other. The same Euclidian argument can be stretched to a number of existent dualities, be proved wise enough to offer a Lincolnian exclamation, ‘Would you prove it to be false by calling Euclid a liar?’

The poet urges the reader to appreciate nature, in the poem beginning ‘you thud headfirst’:

discard the zeros & pick up the bits

discard suburbia wander the earth

imitate those who vent in true voices

imitate anything gentle or blue

listen to countdowns & clocks going off

listen to trees & such urging you on

keep counting until your heart says to stop

keep the shape of it safe in your pocket

—              glimpses like these & then blink it is gone

(2)

There is no gentler way of asking to stop counting one’s money and be aware of one’s ever slipping age.

A prismatic poem that changes colour by each change of perception begins ‘— solutions are strange’:

—solutions are strange    —answers live

deep    —in the heart    —you

prod & prod    —adding subtracting

sadly dividing    —then least expected

it    —sweetly arrives the impossible

 

all August with black board

& chalk she thinks this

poem is Fermat’s last gasp

figuring figuring talking it out

learning to say it “possible”

(4)

When the second stanza answers the first, the reader acknowledges the fact that August indicates old age and also appreciates the wonderfully hidden meaning, where on the threshold of old age, one looks back counting on the added vanity, subtracting the incurred losses, placing incorruptible ego at stake, to finally see that happiness lies in forgiving and acceptance, and considers that it is never late to learn the two precious lessons of life – art of forgiving and art of acceptance.

In the poem, beginning ‘five years old’, the poet stretches to let the reader learn a little of her own self, her place and her careful aesthetic up-bringing:

five years old with the smile & the special

fifty-five years with the miracle grin

& the place & the warm & the ever

time in an egg-cup funny runny time

time to crack ajar those tiny heavens

September is a long way you can’t wait

September gets here quicker every year

a cicada is as big! as your hand

a night is not as loud as your alarm

you talk to it softly the cicada

you talk through it talk until dawn arrives

—                 peace a kind of gravity & private

(8)

Ever-singing cicada — one’s very heart, the size of one’s very fist, night — death creeps silently and is not loud as when in the state of waking, the poet asks, ‘you talk to it softly’ intending to contemplate and go over one’s own consciousness till finding the truth, till finding peace, peace that is individually very personal, serious and powerful.

In the poem beginning ‘—when you lose’ the in-between line reading reveals a different image, with different interpretation:

—when  you lose    —your additive

identity   —becomes a zero   —when

time equals lines   —in an

incidence matrix    —worrying the vertices

inside    —of you let go

if you wake to morning

huge with edges & chewing

yesterday’s words to shreds allow

your hours their dreadful arcs

bite that bad data dead

(32)

When one loses one’s identity-ego, one becomes the self (zero). As time passes by and can be counted by lines of age, with effort there can be self-realisation which is a rough truth. It is the times when one looks back and wishes to skip the wrong-doings and wishes to either have never encountered the dreadful or have it redone with evolved consciousness, in accord with the enlightened self. It is not regret; it is just a feeling that passes by wiser minds.

The poet addresses climate change in poem that opens ‘for instance’:

for instance   ducks in a row   it is a

necessary thing all things considered

the hedge & something is always ticking

bigger than time    how bad is the day    is

the world a bad fit    do these words hit your

 

head with a bang?    the world is fitting it

froths at the mouth    but order itself costs

zip you know    ducks in a row     for instance

(33)

The reader is pushed to deeper thoughts through the expression, ‘something is always ticking bigger than time’, and one cannot miss the implications of the question raised by the poet when she asks, ‘do these words hit your / head with a bang?’

The poet anxiously portrays the need of the present, ecologically sensitive hour in the poem beginning ‘let all of it fall away for we are / a bird’:

… given war let us be

peace    olive stick in beak    let us construct

 

tricky quandaries designed to obstruct

any angst   I say   given drought we are

rain given flood we are sun   & where two

cannot work we are one   thus world may be-

come the thing we have dreamed   with future &

 

children & none of those bombs of death &

life on  a string   let our eyes open to

this   for if destiny equals destruct-

ion    & the solution thus that we be

a bird  therefore etc we are

(36)

Not only does the poet aim at defining ‘freedom’, but also says that ‘it’s unusual for humans to / reach such heights’. In spite of the great odds, the poet assures a hope towards peace.

The same anxiety spills in the poem that opens ‘war is divisible only by war’:

…                                         one day we

will all disappear   one day the mountains

& oceans will go   & we will go too

let war not divide us & cloud out the

 

sun   you see   clouds are dividing   the sky

is a heaven   leaves are talking on all

of the trees   take my hand & give me yours

love only knows love   war only knows war

(38)

A number is divisible by itself and always by a number equal to the least positive integer one. Applying this critically to war foresees the outcome of war that does not allow anyone to think with a clear mind. War plucks away love, as it is born of a clouded mind and it leaves others in a mess, remarks the poet provoking thought.

In a poem opening ‘good morning planet’, the reader is led to wander along with the poet’s habitat:

…                                              good morning

rocky outcrops & intertidal flats

 

& salt-marsh & peninsula & flat

grassy plats    gull & giant petrel I

give you stilt & teal    & orange sunlit

parrot meet black duck    this Altona morn-

ing oyster catchers squawking making hell

(52)

The poet invites the reader  to experience the wild wind, rocky outcrops, flat yellow ground, periwinkles, spoonbills, ibis plotting paths and feel the gust of the windy day.

A ‘golden mean’ poem, starting ‘breath is expressed’, that leaves one breathless by its enchanting imagery of seaside; the second stanza reads:

I dive down deep    the others are way off

the green turtle’s head is as big as mine

I stroke her carapace    she blinks back a

century    the Low Isles sink in an

arc of light    breathe! breathe! everything in    see?

the whole water sparkles    meticulous

(54)

A clear admonition lodges in the mind when the poet says, ‘this is not world   this space / beneath surface   you are not people    but / simple thing’.

The title of the collection appears in a poem which is self-explanatory:

it is so pure    that last gentle breath    &

applied    quite gently to death    I hold your

face in my palm …

you are pure    & applied to life    Euclid’s

dog to the last    I don’t shake I don’t shake

you but how can I go on …

(74)

The poet mentions Rainer Maria Rilke’s open which is about death. Rilke’s, ‘The Eighth Duino Elegy’ begins:

Animals see the unobstructed

world with their whole eyes.

But our eyes, turned back upon

themselves, encircle and

seek to snare the world,

setting traps for freedom.

The reader of Albiston’s, ‘it is so pure’, must be aware of Rilke’s eyes else the intensity will be lost. Likewise the poem engulfs polyhedron into its realm to showcase the ‘many dimensional’ love of a dying animal.

Based on a ‘square pyramid’, another poem that hauls sadness begins ‘what can be said’:

…                        I am no good with good

old pain I have no skill with this    I hate

 

that good old talk won’t come    I call & call

you will not come    old talk will not come home

bang-bang-bang    it shoots me too    & I am

 

just a dog    my dog just died …

(76)

The poet expresses the loss of words, words that do not work in consoling a human of the loss of a being.

Excellent Physics comes into play in a poem beginning ‘the church of logic’, wherein the scientific ‘Logic Gates’ that expresses, in digital language of 0 and 1, universal NAND and NOR gates. These are called universal gates because other basic gate functions can be realised and structured using them. In Logic Gates, there comes a truth table that charts out all possible combinations of the Gate along with its mathematical functional equation. Equipped with this knowledge, the reader has to dive into the poem:

the church of logic stands aloft    its gate

is never locked    nand & nor are little

gods that nod when you knock    when unreason

 

comes a-knocking in your pretty head    set

the formal system ticking then    get the

truth-table    lay your chaos out    invite

 

the truth    invoke the rest …

(81)

The poem asks one to label one’s ‘disasters’ as ‘inversions of success’ and to ‘keep illogic locked till kingdom come‘. A hope of peace, a hope of logic, a hope of true breath is let afloat in the poem.

The collection comes to a close with a poem beginning ‘for let the two numbers’. It is based on Euclid’s Elements, Proposition 35, Book 7:

for   let the two numbers  A  B   measure

any number CD    & let E be

the least that they measure   I say that E

 

also measures CD    for    if E does

not measure CD    let E    measuring

DF    leave CF less than itself    now

 

since A  B   measure E    & E measures

DF   thus A   B   will also measure

DF   but also the whole CD    thus

 

E cannot fail to measure CD    thus

each cannot fail to measure the other

& therefore they measure it    QED

(107)

To apply a philosophical edge to this poem, considering the Christian virtues of faith and hope that are closely connected to valour and fortitude, and also the fact that a confident view of life comes from the highest form of courage, the poem sparkles in brilliant intellectual violet.

If Faith (A), Hope (B) measures Valor (C), Fortitude (D), of all encompassing Virtue (E), never letting out the all important Courage (F), Virtue is a measure of faith & hope, if not that, it is a measure of fortitude & courage that leaves valour & courage less than itself. Since faith & hope measures Virtues, & Virtues measures fortitude & courage, thus faith & hope not only measures the whole of fortitude & courage but also the whole of virtues itself.

To weigh Fortitude against Courage, Faith against Hope is also to weigh Fortitude and Courage along with Valour, hence Virtues cannot fail to measure any and all the above and thus Virtue that keeps humanity afloat is a valueless, complete, and necessary quantity for a human to be called human. The human world has to embrace these Virtues to save every other thing, and that is QED – Quod Erat Demonstrandum (L), words that mean, ‘that which was to be demonstrated’. QED is usually placed at the end of a mathematical proof to indicate that the proof is complete. The QED at the end of this poem that comes under the group ‘Conclusion’, and is also the last of 100 Algorithmic poems of Euclid’s Dog, is well achieved by Albiston and reflects her ability and sensitive creativity. A number of such potential philosophical pollens can be gently collected through this blooming poetry. The collection, like the pelican that ‘trades places split second with sun’ (37), rolls out a bright red carpet for the inquisitive reader to ponder, ponder for long.

Not all poems in Euclid’s Dog don philosophic hats; there are some poems that speak of playful childhood, of Saturday’s lawn mowing, of mannerisms, of orchards, of women’s pain-silence, and such.

Unless the reader is ‘inside’ the structural poetic imagination, the language used in reference to it will be certainly no less puzzling. The universe is looked upon in a Euclidean way through the poetic vision of Albiston, and it becomes necessary for the reader to learn to visualise in a Euclidean way and then rear up the intellectual neck of black swan to complete the poet’s black swan’s questioning neck and dance until the heart of poetry emerges.

The intentional missing punctuation, full-stop, at the end of each poem indicates the unending, infinite, multidimensional possibilities of understanding the poetic philosophy. The idea of logical structure, precision, constructive sensitivity of Euclid’s Dog is indeed a rare perception conceived by the poet and it is here to stay as motivating ‘poetical’ force, gaining momentum to perpetuity.

 

Thriveni C Mysore is a science teacher from Karnataka, India. She is locally acknowledged for her critical essays and articles on Philosophy and Education. Her books in Kannada on Philosophy and Science have won State awards. Being actively involved in Environmental Awareness Program, she holds lectures and presentations for students. Amidst life’s complexities, she finds divine-solace in reading Nature poems.

%d bloggers like this: