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
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”
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 …
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 …
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 …
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
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.