by Jessica Goodfellow
Mayapple Press, 102 pages
reviewed by Camille E. Davis
Jessica Goodfellow was trained as a poet and a mathematician. In an interview with The Japan Times, she admits that as a child she would “recite poems, usually rewritten nursery rhymes, where [she] would change the words to what [she] wanted…but with the rhythm of the rhyme behind it.” However, her family, though never precisely dampening her poetic spirit, pushed her to explore her natural ability in mathematics instead. She came to reconsider her career choice when she found herself deeply unhappy while pursuing a Ph.D. in microeconomics and econometrics at CalTech.
So it is not surprising that Goodfellow is completely at ease when flirting with poetic mathematics. Her first book of poetry, Mendeleev’s Mandala, sprinkles logic equations to the meat of its poems. Goodfellow is interested in the crossroads where mathematical logic and history meet both free verse and more classical poetic forms. Split into five sections, Mandala also feels like a compilation of Goodfellow’s work. The fifth section incorporates Goodfellow’s first chapbook, The Pilgrim’s Guide to Chaos in the Heartland, and thus Mandala feels like a reverse chronology.
A poem in the first section that typifies Goodfellow’s ability to tear down the stereotypes associated with the division of a “left brain” to a “right brain” is “Imagine No Apples.” Within the poem, Goodfellow twists the form of first-order logic. Unlike say, Inger Christenson, whose poetic form in alphabet is structured by using the strict rules of the Fibonacci sequence, Goodfellow uses mathematics abstractly, and not necessarily in form or meter.
From the very first stanza of “Imagine No Apples,” Goodfellow subtly upsets stereotypes by stating, “All beginnings wear their endings like dark apples. / A is for apple. B is not for apple. / C, also not for apple. And so on.” In this, she is playing on two givens: the first, of a child’s introduction to the alphabet beginning with “A is for Apple, B is for Boy, C is for Cat” and the second, of formal logic equations that states, in this example, “If A is not B and C is not B, then A is not C.”chop! chop! read more!