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PROFILE: John Kinsella, Poet-in-Residence

Lyrical spiral

Professor John Kinsella, Poet and Writer in Residence at the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences

"I have long been interested in the connections and interstices between poetry and mathematics — indeed, like poetry and music, or like poetry and visual art, one could argue that poetry and mathematics are inseparable. This is the case in the context of metrics, or in the ‘shape’ and form of a poem, and also in my view, in creating proofs of ‘existence’. These are some of the issues I will be exploring during this two-year residency. Further, I am interested in creating a figurative language out of curves, shapes, and lines. For example, I am focussing on spirals at the moment — from the nautilus, through to ‘dust devils’, through to doodles on pages! I am particularly fascinated by the ‘subsets’ formed by overlapping spirals, and how they might be used figuratively/ poetically — how they might go ‘beyond’, say, the Venn diagram. Is there a ‘solution’ for this problem of shared area in overlapping spirals (especially where spirals oscillate/change)? Is it possible to create a nomenclature in maths and in poetry?

"I am keen to write a book of poetry out of ‘impressions of mathematics’ — that is, a book about the visual observations of ‘art’ in maths, and how these relate to walking and writing, to observations of the natural world around Cambridgeshire. In other words, not an explication of mathematics, but a poetic exploration of the tangents and overlaps with the natural world that maths evokes.

"I am also intending to write a series of short stories and a collection of essays.

"The Isaac Newton Institute is a unique environment in which I will be able to come into contact with a wide array of mathematical practices discussed and explored in a collaborative environment. A poet thrives on exposure to new ideas, and I expect to be challenged and have new doors of perception opened on a consistent basis."

John Kinsella Bio Note

Work Produced
Date Title
December 2014 Graphology Appendix 2
December 2014 Graphology Appendix 3
July 2015 Divine Proportion
July 2015 Wobbling Spirals
July 2015 Coltrane ‘Spiral’: Taking the Lead at Jam Tree Gully
July 2015 Intersections of Arts and Sciences at Jam Tree Gully
July 2015 Volute
July 2015 Eigenvalue
July 2015 On Richard Long’s ‘Sculpture Left by the Tide’ (Cornwall, 1970)
July 2015 Outside the Concentric Circles of Work
August 2015 Graphology Mutations 54: Memories of Spiral Staircases
August 2015 First Ecologue Spiral
September 2015 Smoke Spiralling from the Valley Deep: The Dead Adonis     Wings on Bucolic Spire
Spiral poems
Date Title
September 2015 The Age of Spirals
September 2015 When We First Heard

These spiral poems by John Kinsella are written inside painted hoops by Karl Wiebke. "The things you call hoops I call rings, I have heard people calling them circles, it tells a story. The concept for this work came out of a garage, the making of the steel rings were done in an ancient factory in Epping, the painting in my studio in Northcote. Looking at the work I think: Occupying space and giving space. The given space is untouchable." Karl Wiebke, artist.

University of Cambridge Research Councils UK
    Clay Mathematics Institute London Mathematical Society NM Rothschild and Sons