'Cut & Paste' podcast: It's 101 that STL poet Ted Mathys uses math to express emotion | St. Louis Public Radio

'Cut & Paste' podcast: It's 101 that STL poet Ted Mathys uses math to express emotion

Jun 10, 2015

St. Louis poet Ted Mathys has “Math” in his name -- and his background.

“I started out college as a math major. I’m really interested in precision and exactitude,” Mathys said.

Poetry eventually won out as an occupation, but give the word a prefix and math is a close second: a preoccupation. Numbers still figure prominently in his work, including his book to be released June 12, called “Null Set.” So does child’s play.

You know that classic blue-and-red children’s puzzle that’s a multi-sided ball with holes of various shapes cut out of it? Helping his young daughter put the yellow plastic shapes into the correct openings inspired the poem “Polyhedral,” a three-dimensional geometric figure whose sides are polygons, or figures with three or more sides that are usually straight. Mathys read from that poem in our conversation.

But enough about math. Ted Mathys often uses numbers just to get to feelings. Here are some highlights of our conversation:

  • On the flip side of numerical inspiration: “I’m also a human with, like, messy emotions.”
  • About how to get people to appreciate poetry: “It’s like burning money. It’s like burning paper money. “ … you stop for a second and you hold that dollar bill or that word in front of somebody’s face and you light it on fire.” 
  • On his previous existence of working in international policy, with a side of poetry: "I really had this 'Jekyll and Hyde' relationship with poetry for many years."

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