This is Just To Say I Started An Experiment

Yesterday, after picking up my roommate at the airport, I had to drive her to her lab in the ISC to feed her cells. Currently they’re looking at cancer cells and watching growth patterns. She said I could see the lab if I drove her there after the airport and I figured why not. When we walked into the lab room (which was a lot messier than I expected), she prepared herself (ie. washed hands, put on the goggles, and other lab safety things) and like a kid in a china shop, I walked around the room with my hands behind my back. Then I found a seat at the middle lab table strewn with plastic pipettes, lab packets, highlighters, empty petri dishes, and other items that shouted biology. At the table, I saw a lab packet with a paper towel note explaining that the one lab partner used a specific chemical but he promised to replace it soon and not to worry. Because I tend to be a little mischievous I decided to leave a note too.

William Carlos Williams' infamous plum poem
William Carlos Williams’ infamous plum poem

The original note (on the left) reminded me of Williams’ poem (on the right) because of its content. Person A, the speaker (in this case Anthony), takes something of Person B’s and wants to let him know that it was Person A who did it and not anyone else. However, Person A in the original note promises to replenish what he took. The speaker in William Carlos Williams’ poem does not promise anything like the sort. I read this poem in high school and college and it was interpreted in many different ways. But I was always stuck whether or not the speaker was actually remorseful or only sorry because the plums were that delicious. After reading Anythony’s note, I knew I had to leave Williams’ poem. As I copied the poem from my phone, I was giggling to myself so my roommate asked, “What are you up to?” And by the time she came over and saw it, she just burst out laughing.

“What is that?” she asked. I looked incredulous and asked if she ever read it in high school. It’s the infamous plum poem (or “This is Just to Say”) by William Carlos Williams. “That’s a poem?! I thought you were just leaving a really weird note.” As we left the room she said, “Of course you would leave poetry in a science room.”

“But there’s poetry in science!” I replied. She rolled her eyes but laughed.

And from there, I decided to start my own experiment. I told her to watch her lab group and see if any of them recognized the poem. I was really biology-focused in high school but this poem still stuck out to me (mostly because 11th grader-Christina was confused why it was a poem too). My roommate argued that these were the people who never even heard of The Twilight Zone so she doubts that anyone will know poetry. They’re so science-oriented and focused. This note is my  own experiment in the lab. Will anyone notice the note? Will anyone understand it at all? I suppose that even not knowing the poem, it’s still a pretty funny note to see (especially because food isn’t allowed in the lab).

6 Replies to “This is Just To Say I Started An Experiment”

  1. I’m interested to see a follow up on this post, Christina! I’m really curious to see if anyone will recognize the poem–although you never know, someone might. I’m always interested to see how people pair their majors and interests: right now, I know a few science/english and math/english double majors, so the STEM-English divide isn’t always so clear cut as it seems. In fact, there’s quite a few non-English majors in the other two workshops I’m currently in this semester!

  2. This made me burst out laughing as well! I definitely want to hear a follow up response too!

    I think you are so right though, there is poetry in science! Why can’t the two ever mix? In my Humanities class there is a science major who, everyday, raises her hand and asks what the point is in reading these texts. She continuously rants about how these books will not help her at allllllllllll in her science career.

    Comments like that make my heart swell with a mixture of anger and sadness. I loved science in high school as well, but obviously also loved writing and reading in my English classes. Why can’t people love both? Or, more importantly, why can’t people see how intertwined they truly are? There is such beauty in science, and how else to capture beauty than to write it down in a poem! Sigh.

    I could go on and on about this, and I’m sure you and many others in our class could as well. Thanks for sharing this moment though with us!

    1. …which has been one of the fates of poetry in the late 20th/early 21st century: to appeal to comedy, or accept status as comic/witty, in order to be allowed a place at the table. That’s not to disparage wonderful poems of levity, some of which have a great depth to them and offer meaningful cultural critique, but it is interesting to think about how the contemporary (poetry) reading privileges what makes us laugh and encourages poets to put their most jocular material first…or changes material that’s not predominantly funny into being so.

  3. Funny. This is also a strong statement on what poetry is, and how (or if) it exists depending on the context. I took a Philosophy of Art class freshman year and we read an article on how an artist nailed a bed (bed frame and all) to the wall of a museum and claimed it as his own piece. Of course, philosophers were all over this, analyzing whether or not it should be considered art–kind of how undergraduate student scientists were trying to decipher whether or not this note is a poem, I guess.

    Another example I have from that class (that is more widely-known) is Fountain by Marcel Duchamp. The piece is just a factory-made urinal with the artist’s name written on it. Of course, Duchamp and Williams have their own purposes for creative expression, but both confront a similar issue. When Fountain was placed in a public park and claimed as art, people were confused, even angered. It makes us wonder what it is about context that deems a piece worthy of its title and its ultimate value.

    Is a piece of artwork hanging in a museum considered more artful than something you see placed intentionally in a public park? Or vice versa? Is poetry more or less a poem when it is placed out of context (i.e.: in a laboratory as opposed to a lit magazine)? The philosophy of art (and poetry) can really get your head spinning, but it’s very fascinating to think about. Thanks for the post!

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