Tom Petsinis was born in Greek Macedonia and emigrated with his family to Australia when he was six. Although English became his first language, Greek and Slavic Macedonian was still spoken at home, and the country of origin remains a strong influence. He later acquired what he calls his ‘fourth language’, the language of mathematics.
Tom Petsinis is a novelist, poet and playwright. He teaches mathematics at the Victoria University of Technology in Melbourne. His multicultural background inspired two novels: Raising the Shadow (1992) and The Twelfth Dialogue (2000); two plays: The Drought (1994) and The Picnic (1999); and three volumes of poetry: The Blossom Vendor (1992), Offerings: Sonnets from Mount Athos (1994) and Inheritance (1995). Mathematics plays a central part in his novel The French Mathematician (1997), about the life of the 18th century French genius Évariste Galois, and in his poetry collection Naming the Number (1998).
Inheritance and Naming the Number illustrate the two thematic extremes in Petsinis’ work. Inheritance, a seven-part cycle consisting of seven stanzas, each containing seven lines of seven syllables, is both a monumental hymn and the account of a quest: a hymn to the living, radiant presence of his Macedonian grandmother, and a quest for his own childhood years and his family’s past. While strictly adhering to the chosen form, Petsinis’ poetry is in no way contrived, displaying instead a remarkably intimate and straightforward power of expression.
In Naming the Number Petsinis evokes the beauty and mysticism of mathematics in a way that the layman can understand and enjoy. The line, the naught, the circle, and even more complex concepts such as ‘transfinite numbers’ or the ‘Fibonacci series’ become images and metaphors of life itself. In his poems we appreciate the efficient elegance of the mathematical formula, but no less the clarity, humour and emotion of true, warm-blooded poetry.
[Tom Petsinis took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2001. This text was written on that occasion.]