“Clearly a divide separates the disciplines of science and poetry. In many respects we cannot enter one another’s territory. The divide is as real as a rift separating tectonic plates or a border separating nations. But a border is both a zone of exclusion and a zone of contact where we can exchange some aspects of our difference, and, like neighboring tribes who exchange seashells and obsidian, obtain something that is lacking in our own locality.” – Alison Hawthorne Deming in “Poetry and Science | A View from the Divide”
I’ve been dealing a lot, both on this blog and in my poetry, about how I relate science and writing. This line from “Poetry and Science: A View from the Divide” might best represent my feelings on the subject “The divide is as real as a rift separating tectonic plates.” I’m biased, probably. Definitely. It’s a geology metaphor, how could I not be biased? But Demings also has a large point here with her metaphor, whether it was intentional or not.
I stood in the Mid- Atlantic Ridge this summer. The MAR is a divergent boundary, and I had visited the only country where it exists on land, everywhere else it exists under water. Divergent boundaries are areas where two plates are pushing apart- on the surface, that’s how science and poetry seem to act. They are two entirely different disciplines that, in many ways, do not work together. In our schools, we keep them physically separate. In my high school, science classes were in House 1 and English classes in House 2. At Geneseo, the divide is between Welles and the ISC. I exist in both buildings, and I hear peers, on both sides, say how they could never do the other discipline. They don’t like reading. They aren’t creative enough. They don’t like math. They aren’t patient enough.
This all seems like a silly debate, though, when you remember that the land being pushed away from the divergent boundary is made from the same material. Science and poetry explore similar topics. They try to build our understanding of the world that we live in, even if they do it in different ways. What’s more, the MAR is not a boundary, in the traditional sense. It is not a straight line where you can run across a bridge and say “I’m on the North American plate!” “Now I’m on the Eurasian plate!!” (Though, that bridge does exist for the uninformed.) It’s an entire rift zone that jumps east across Iceland. This rift zone is a blurry area between plates, and it’s the zone where science and poetry can mix.
As I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve become more and more aware of how blurry the lines between things are. CNF is not a boxed in genre, it exists on a spectrum of journalism to fiction. Poetry is not an island, either, it has elements of CNF and fiction in it. Science is not always science; we use metaphors to understand hard to visualize topics (I once had a professor compare a magma vent to a sparkly kid’s toothpaste coming out of a toothpaste tube). And poetry is not just poetry, because it can be enhanced by scientific ideas and processes. Neither exist on their own, because a blurriness already exists between the disciplines. The hard part, for me at least, is learning how to feel settled and comfortable enough in this blurry in-between area to sit down and actually write.