Mathematics for Ladies: Poems on Women in Science

Goldsmiths. Sept. 2022. 128p. ISBN 9781913380489. pap. $20. POETRY
As stated in the foreword to this pristine and intriguing collection from Randall (curator of special collections, Colorado Coll.; A Day in Boyland), 19th-century polymath Mary Somerville was the first person to be called a scientist—so dubbed after the publication of her On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences. Yet how many women scientists can we name? Randall sets out to rectify the situation in a series of bright, brief poems whose subjects range from the First Scientist (“Is there something inside a stone/ That doesn’t show/ when it’s broken open?”) to Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani (“They say study, experiment, postulate,/ And I look out the window and see it complete”), who died, tragically, in 2017 at age 40. Along the way, a few recognizable names emerge, among them Hildegard of Bingen, Jane Goodall, Virginia Apgar, Lise Meitner, and of course Marie Curie. But most of the 70 women presented here will be unknown to all but the cognoscenti. Randall doesn’t write extended narratives but give a pungent, personal glimpse of each woman (of 19th-century paleontologist Mary Anning, “Things she drew by the seashore:/ specimens// Things she loved and lost by the seashore: her dog, Tray”) that should pique interest; readers will generally agree when Somerville says: “they block us from learning/ and then mock us for not having learned.”
VERDICT For science readers who love poetry, poetry readers who love science, and feminists and students of all ages. [For more on this collection, see “Curating Creativity: Jessy Randall Finds Inspiration in the Archives | Peer to Peer Review.”]
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