Response to “Poetry and Science” Pt. 2- The Mid-Atlantic Ridge

“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.

Continue reading “Response to “Poetry and Science” Pt. 2- The Mid-Atlantic Ridge”

Tarfia Faizullah’s “The Poem You’ve Been Waiting For”

This past week I signed up for daily poems to be sent to my email on behalf of the poetry foundation. It pleases me to wake up with a poem every day because it helps me interact with the poem more closely—and my day begins on a pensive note. Today’s poem was called “The Poem You’ve Been Waiting For,” by  Tarfia Faizullah. The poem is beautiful and seems to be about a reflection—within or outside of oneself. The lines reflect one another, and move across moments seamlessly in a sentence. It’s feels like a train, passing destinations within seconds. Except Faizullah accomplishes this technique with a subtlety that feels like a whisper, and readers are left to dwell on what they just read, why it makes them feel nostalgic, and how it felt like a magical blur. For example:

to take me. I saw then the gnawing

sounds my faith has been making
and I saw too that the shape it sings

in is the color of cast-iron mountains
I drove so long to find I forgot I had

Notice how the speaker moves from one line to the next, without hesitance or ending. The lines move fluidly. Everything she speaks about such as “the shape” or the “the color” are vague and are only used to create an outline of an image as opposed to a real image. This allows the reader to fill in the outline with their own associations. This poem gave me goosebumps because of it’s ability to create universality. I can relate this poem to many aspects of my life. The “you” could be an older version of myself, or it could be a lover, or even a family member. The magic of this poem is that it applies to whoever reads it, and leaves a significant message. It encourages readers to think about their lives in a deeper way and to consider re-evaluating the moments that have led up to their current self. It is very much a poem that someone might have been waiting to hear, an extra push forward or a symbol of hope. There’s a lot more to be considered here that I will continue to think about. And I am intrigued by Faizullah’s skillful use of language.

I saw then the white-eyed man
leaning in to see if I was ready

yet to go where he has been waiting
to take me. I saw then the gnawing

sounds my faith has been making
and I saw too that the shape it sings

in is the color of cast-iron mountains
I drove so long to find I forgot I had

been looking for them, for the you
I once knew and the you that was born

waiting for me to find you. I have been
twisting and turning across these lifetimes

where forgetting me is what you do
so you don’t have to look at yourself. I saw

that I would drown in a creek carved out
of a field our incarnations forged the first path

through to those mountains. I invited you to stroll
with me there again for the first time, to pause

and sprawl in the grass while I read to you
the poem you hadn’t known you’d been waiting

to hear. I read until you finally slept
and all your jagged syntaxes softened into rest.

You’re always driving so far from me towards
the me I worry, without you, is eternity. I lay there,

awake, keeping watch while you snored.
I waited, as I always seem to, for you

to wake up and come back to me

Response to “Poetry and Science”- Language Use as a Divider of Disciplines

I found an article the other day, while looking for a quote on crafting CNF, titled “Poetry and Science: a view from the divide.” Being the person that I am, I’ve been playing with and reading this article for a good week now, trying to decide what parts of it to respond to. Truth be told, this may be an article that I write multiple blog posts about.

One of the things that Alison Hawthorne Deming does in this article is try to define science and poetry in terms of each other to figure out what is different about them. One of my favorite paragraphs on this subject, which I’ve quoted at the bottom of this post, compared them in terms of language and word use. Deming says that the two disciplines “use language in a fundamentally different manner.” She claims that science uses it as “a tool of measurement” and an “auxiliary tool.” Language, for poetry, is at the forefront of everything. It is the emotion and driving force behind a poem. In both cases, though, scientists and poets use language carefully to tell stories and to explain. The stories they create and explain are very, very different.

Over the summer I had to write a proposal for a directed study. In this proposal, I was talking about pits in the Laki lava flow, a large lava flow in Iceland, and one of the comments that my professor wrote back was about the precision of language. He told me that I could not call some of the pits, which I hypothesized where formed by a collapse of the rock, collapse-pits, because it implied that I already knew they were collapse features. I did not know this, obviously, it was what my entire study was going to be on. Likewise, I find myself reaching for precision when writing poetry, because every word counts when you only use 83 of them. My take away, at least from this part of the essay, is that language use is one of the ways we can define disciplines. Furthermore, the way language is used for interdisciplinary writing requires care, because it combines the original disciple, the everyday understanding of that word/ discipline, and whatever metaphor/ wordplay the poem is suggesting. Scientific words sometimes require that you unpack and understand them to use them. Poetry words require that you think about them within the context of the poem. Both ways, language asks its users to remember that they are part of a subgroup, to use the language of this class, and that they and their poetry doesn’t exist within a void.


Quote from the article Poetry and Science”:

“But science and poetry, when each discipline is practiced with integrity, use language in a fundamentally different manner.  Both disciplines share the attempt to find a language for the unknown, to develop an orderly syntax to represent accurately some carefully seen aspect of the world.  Both employ language in a manner more distilled than ordinary conversation.  Both, at their best, use metaphor and narrative to make unexpected connections.  But, as Czech immunologist and poet Miroslav Holub points out, “for the sciences, words are an auxiliary tool.”  Science–within the tradition of its professional literature–uses language for verification and counts on words to have a meaning so specific that they will not be colored by feelings and biases.  Science uses language as if it were another form of measurement–exact, definitive and logical. ”


Does the Poet or Reader Make the Poem?

The first thing that pops up when I google “how to write a poem” is Poetry Writing: 10 Tips on How to Write a Poem. Here is an excerpt from the website:

If you are writing a poem because you want to capture a feeling that you experienced, then you don’t need these tips. Just write whatever feels right. Only you experienced the feeling that you want to express, so only you will know whether your poem succeeds.

If, however, your goal is to communicate with a reader — drawing on the established conventions of a literary genre (conventions that will be familiar to the experienced reader) to generate an emotional response in your reader — then simply writing what feels right to you won’t be enough.

These tips will help you make an important transition:

  • away from writing poetry to celebrate, commemorate, or capture your own feelings (in which case you, the poet, are the center of the poem’s universe)
  • towards writing poetry in order to generate feelings in your reader (in which case the poem exists entirely to serve the reader).

This made me wonder which type of poetry we are leaning towards. I’m guessing we’re leaning towards the latter type, where the objective is to “generate feelings in your reader.” It doesn’t say “make your reader feel your own feelings,” but instead it just leaves it at “generate feelings.” This then makes me think that perhaps a poem could still be successful even if the reader does not understand the poet’s original motives or reasoning behind the poem, just as long as the poem moves the reader in a way that is meaningful to the reader him/herself.

How many readers does the poem need to move in order to be counted as successful? What if the poet is completely emotionally detached from the poem but is still able to move the reader deeply? Does the poet put the soul into the poem or does the reader?

The poet is the one who creates the poem and causes its existence, but the reader is the one who fulfills the purpose of the poem (if we are talking about the sort of poem that is written to communicate to an audience other than the poet him/herself). A creation without purpose can still exist, but purpose is what makes the creation alive. By alive, I mean the creation has a real impact on other people’s thoughts, feelings, values, and actions – it has a living effect on the world.

It’s funny how our sense of purpose relies so much on how others receive us. I think many people in American culture (I don’t want to generalize, but it is a trend I’ve noticed when I compare the American culture to other cultures) are often taught to promote self above all else – just “do you,” as long as it makes you happy. But there seems to be more to purpose than just doing what makes you “happy” – somehow our joy isn’t complete until we share it. We need others to help us find our purpose, because if there were no other people, there would be no one who needs us.

I don’t know how to explain how I ended up here..I tend to link everything to large philosophies and my personal knowledge of truth…it’s how I make sense of life, I think.