I am sad to say that this is Gay’s last post, as she left us to pursue her retirement on May 31. I had hoped she would write a farewell post, but there is never enough time to do all that you plan. We wish Gay a very happy new beginning, though we’ll miss her insights and all of her help at the MWWC. –Cathleen
As I opened and began to ready Katharine O’Brien’s book of poetry, Excavation and Other Verse, I simultaneously looked out the window into a fogged-in parking lot on an April morning and I was struck by the coincidence of the view and the book’s first poem “Spring Song” which began “By April mist be not misled….” Very quickly I became enamored of O’Brien’s poetry as I read on, but then just as quickly, the titles of some of the subsequent—“The old oaken Calculus problem,” “Mathematician,” “Einstein and the ice cream cone”—echoed the Katharine O’Brien, brilliant mathematician, with whom I was more familiar.
What led me to discover this talented woman writer were enclosures found in her important work, Sequences, here in the Maine Women Writers Collection—small, aged clippings from newspapers, a page of quotes and a half-page of edits, both in her hand, and a few other items she had left in the books she had donated to the Collection. But upon discovering her published poetry collection, I realized I was mistaken to think her world was made up only of ciphers, equations and formulas. And O’Brien herself writes of the intersection of her two passions in “The old oaken Calculus problem.”
O’Brien’s Sequences was published as one of Houghton-Mifflin Mathematics Enrichment Series and received many positive reviews from which O’Brien had hand-copied excerpts: “a wealth of material,” “very well written,” “attractive contribution” onto a sheet of paper and left behind to be found. (I will observe here that it is not a book to be enjoyed lightly!)
And seeing among the inserts the clipped articles that trumpeted the progress in the 1980s in unraveling “pi” and “prime numbers,” we can assume the world of mathematics was never far from her thoughts.
But I have to believe O’Brien softened and balanced her passion for math by creating light, personally revealing and sometimes humorous poetry—for her soul and for ours. We thank her for both!