Saturday, August 1, 2009

Poetry of Science

The New York Times blog TierneyLab ran a guest post on the Poetry of Science, focusing on the poems of Kimiko Hahn, and most particularly on her book Toxic Flora, coming out from Norton next year, a collection of poetry inspired by the science section of the New York Times.

I'm a great fan of science poetry, as anybody who's read my work most likely already knows (about half of the poems in Iron Angels are about science, or science fiction, or both).

There is an innate tension between science and poetry, the reflection of our society's perception of an opposition between the literary and the scientific ways of viewing the world; between, as C.P. Snow would put it, the "two cultures" of humanities and science. Yet (as I posted in a comment on the Tierney blog), poetry and science also go together; in their way, they are similar ways of doing the same thing: At its best poetry combines insight into the workings of the world with metaphors based on combining diverse observations– and science is a superb generator of both observations and insights.
As I read Hahn's poetry, I'm struck by the insights she finds in biology, and in how apt and particular the correspondences between biology and day to day life. Her poetry deals with bumble bees, and Moray eels; with plants, and planets.

"Others read the story of a pond or a patient the way she [Hahn] reads a poem. Interested in experiencing something foreign, she reads essays on science, on the world and on language. Whatever she finds intriguing and frightening becomes a poem. She writes a lot about extinction. She is writing a collection of poems inspired by science, called Toxic Flora. “There is poetic truth and factual truth,” she said. She is respectful of science and how the writers of science get their information correct. She is an artist because of the license to be irresponsible." (from Robert Flynn).

Is there a contradiction between science and poetry, or a consilience? Do you find insights for poetry in the workings of science?


Shelley Chernin said...

Consilience, without a doubt. I find a special resonance between poetry and science. Both deal with process. Both involve an endeavor to know the unknown. Both are precise in language.

Are you familiar with Chrystallography by Christian Bok. It's a really cool meeting of poetry and mineral science. Resonant.

michael salinger said...

I find science and poetry both take the time to observe and ponder.

Eric said...

Two great, new collections of science/poetry: Jeffrey Yang's An Aquarium and Cynthia Lowen's The Self Casts a Shadow in this month's Black Warrior Review.


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau