And now, the Poetry of Science

August 12, 2009 § 13 Comments

auriculata_2E_SK_smallWe’ve covered (or introduced the idea of) business poetry; here’s another genre – science. This New York Times story explores the poetry of Kimiko Hahn, who isn’t a scientist but uses the study as inspiration.

Here’s a snippet:


There is something vital
about the Passiflora auriculata,

which over a million years varied its cyanogens

to discourage feasting insects …


I think many of us dabble in this genre, in a general way. Think stars and moons, nature…maybe a good science encyclopedia  would help.


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§ 13 Responses to And now, the Poetry of Science

  • brucehood says:

    I think that scientists and those who wish to promote science can sometimes try too hard. Like musicals based on Darwin or humor: “Q: How do you tell the sex of a chromosome? A: Take down its genes”
    Somehow it just doesn’t work for me (even as a scientist).

    • I agree, Bruce. That’s a really bad joke. :-)

      Science is fun because it shifts our view of the world – very little is as it appears on the surface – poetry does the same. So perhaps science poems are attempting to illustrate the same thing, but using the terminology and framework as the metaphor.

  • Linda says:

    Sometimes those Latin words make beautiful sounds as they roll off the tongue. Passiflora auriculata … hear it?

  • I never thought about scientific poetry. I agree with Vicki on this one. I want it to be imaginitive and beautiful in reflection and not scientific.

    • Dick Whyte says:

      I love the idea of scientific poetry or poetry about science. I think that haiku has many possibilities in this area. I don’t think that poetry need be imaginative and beautiful, but then again I don’t think scientific poetry need not be imaginative and beautiful in itself. Take this example:

      the sun sets
      eight minutes later

      This is what I would call a “science-poem.” I really enjoy writing scientific poetry, poetry that engages with ideas of science and thought, rather than just “expression” (for lack of a better word). And I don’t feel that scientific references take away from aesthetics. The ideas of science I find very “aesthetically” pleasing. In a way I feel science is an aesthetics of the universe, creating an “image” of it, a “map” of it, a “design” of some description.

      I am not trying to say that you shouldn’t have the feelings you have, just providing a different view on the subject. Hope that’s okay.

      All the best,
      Dick Whyte (from Solar)

      • Dick, this is a wonderful description – “science is an aesthetics of the universe.”

        Your description is a more accurate way of saying what I was trying to when I mentioned the stars and moon that poets so often refer to.

        Thank you for visiting and sharing your perspective!

      • Here’s a post on Dick’s site that has a clear illustration of the beauty and simplicity of science poetry.

        • Dick Whyte says:

          Thanks Pamela,

          Yeah, I have always liked thinking of science, well… physics really, as the “aesthetics of the universe.” Art has always borrowed from science, and science has always borrowed from art. The impressionists and cubism, for instance, used new theories of perception to develop ways of painting which had not been tried before. Quantum physics and chaos theory seem to bring science and art even closer together. I guess its a matter of finding a middle ground between the assumed objectivity of science and the assumed subjectivity of art.

          All the best,

  • Vicki says:

    oops, sorry about the typos

  • Vicki says:

    What is your opinion on this Pamela? If there are to many scientific references does that take away from the asethetic value for you? I does a little for me….

    • I’m ambivalent. The references add mystery, which I like, but then I feel a bit stupid, too. :-)

      • Dick Whyte says:

        I like to think of “mysterious references” as what Gilles Deleuze calls a “point-sign.” It is a sign which “points” out of the text and requires the reader to do research on their own, thereby gaining knowledge of something. Rather than telling someone something it opens onto self motivated research. When I read science articles I always need a dictionary (or Wikipedia) close at hand so I can look up terms. All I mean to say is, no need to feel “dumb.” A specialised language (such as science, philosophy, or even gardening) will always be difficult when you first encounter it.

        We could think of the names of flowers in the same way. I recently read a poem with the word “laburnum” in it and had no idea what it was (though I knew it was a kind of flower from the context). Hence, I had to look it up. Not because I am dumb, but just because the names of flowers is not a language I am familiar with. However, because of that poem and others I am slowly building up a knowledge of flower names.

        All the best,

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