A Scientific Writing Prompt

Hi all!

So some people have posted a lot of prompts for writing, and I thought I’d try to add my feelings on inspiration to the mix. Obviously, you’re about to get some ecology. I’m so sorry. I’m going to intersperse some photos, because I’m also enamored with the beauty of bees, and hope the photos might inspire you even if the material doesn’t. I am just clearly really into the idea of using poetry to overcome the typical ‘textbook’ barrier people have with science, and would love to engage others in that process of ‘recreating’ science.

The following are some Apis – honeybees on some backlit honeycomb. Fun fact: almost every bee you’ve ever met is a female. This has to do with the unique reproductive strategy of eusocial/colony bees (which I will get into later in the post). But yeah. The colonies are basically biological sororities.


I love bees – I think I love them like Arianna loves hermit crabs. So I’d like to tell you some stuff about them, and then see if any of you can/are interested in turning some of the science into lines of poems. I would love it if everyone wrote a line or two, and we made a collaborative poem, because that would be SO eusocial of us (basically, so like the colony system that my favorite bees use) but I’ll settle for just making the post and seeing if anyone bites. Here is a Bombus – bumblebee. Just as an adorable fact (these guys are probs my favorite), that little black spot between the wings will go bald during most bumblebees’ lifespans; the little hairs get worn away over time as the bumblebee brushes against things. Most of the bees I’m working with in my research have serious baldspots.

So most bees engage in a principle known as eusociality. 

Eusociality – the highest form of organization of animal sociality defined by three major characteristics:
– reproductive divisions of labor (there is a sterile/non-reproductive caste and a reproductive caste)
– overlapping generations of adults
– cooperative brood care

Ants, bees, termites, naked mole rats, S. regalis (a parasitic shrimp), aphids and thrips are all eusocial – most of the eusocial organisms are found to be insects. Eusociality results in behavior like this:

Fire Ant Raft

Look at the adorable pollen dusted bee below. Also a Bombus. Awwww.

So according to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, each individual acts to increase it’s own fitness – meaning each individual acts to survive and reproduce and pass on its own genes. So how does this highly developed eusocial form develop with sterile workers? After all, there is no fitness to being sterile so it seems like all evolutionary change would resist this model of social structure.
The prevailing theory is that of Kin Selection – selection that favors traits that benefit one’s relatives at the cost of one’s own fitness. This has to do with the concept of direct fitness (i.e. your offspring) vs. indirect fitness (your family members’ offspring that carry some, but a lower percentage, of your genes). These two forms of fitness together make up your inclusive fitness. Kin selection scientists argue that Darwin’s Theory means that each individual will act to increase their own inclusive fitness, not just their direct fitness. This helps to explain altruism in humans too.

(Another adorable honeybee – fluffy like a puppy!)

Hamilton’s Rule was hypothesized to add some mathematical support to the idea of kin selection.

rb >c      where r = relatedness of actor to recipient of action (i.e. your child has 50% of your genes, so .5 in that case)
b = benefit to recipient
c = cost to actor

And this rule really does form the basis of our understanding of eusocial insects because ‘r’ is special for eusocial. This is because most (not all but MOST) eusocial insect societies are haplodiploid.

Haplodiploidy is the concept that males of the society are haploid (contain half a genome, i.e. one of each chromosome) and females are diploid (contain a full genome/two of each chromosome, like humans). What does this mean?

(Leafcutter bee above; they make circles in leaves – we have a ton in Geneseo.)
Imagine you have a Queen (who is diploid) with two genes – AaBb – and a male (who is haploid) like this – AB. When mating, the male passes on 100% of his genes – AB – to all of his offspring, because he only has one copy. So every diploid daughter is going to have an ‘AB’ in her genome. Now the Queen does that whole meiosis deal, so her genes recombine. Let’s say they’re having two baby bees so we’ll randomly assort for the mama bee to pass on: Ab and AB (other possibilities would be: aB and ab).

One of the baby bees is going to turn out: AB + Ab = AABb. The other baby bee is going to turn out: AB + AB = AABB. See how the sisters are 75% identical – differing only at the second ‘B’?

(Above: Sweat Bee – we have those around here, too)
The father being haploid instead of diploid means there’s no chance for his genes to be passed on non-identically; therefore all sister bees are 75% related (50% from dad, and 25% from mom).

This is huge – breakthrough – because it means that sisters in eusocial insect colonies are more related to one another than to their own mother. This is why (according to Hamilton’s rule) sterility existed – because it is more beneficial for the sisters to help the Queen reproduce and make more sisters that are 75% identical to them in genome than it is for them to reproduce themselves (and be only 50% related to their offspring).

Seriously, you can’t make this shit up. Science is so swag.

The kleptoparasitic cuckoo bee

Last fun fact – the pollen collecting parts of a bee are known as a ‘scopa’; coming from the Latin, for broom.



So I want to talk about punctuation – and how we use it in poetry. Can something as small as a dot – and its placement, or the lack of it – shape our poem? How?

For example, end-stopped versus enjambment. Shakespeare uses end-stopped sonnets all the time; it heightens our understanding of the rhyme scheme; it establishes the meter in our minds. Enjambment can create variety in structure, call attention to words that might not necessarily fall at the end of the line, and can create interest in continuing on to the next line.

So following are my (untutored) thoughts on some kinds of punctuation. I’d really love others’ opinions and experiences as well.

. – The period totally stops us. It can disconnect two lines from one another, or halt us in the middle. It can jarr us awake and out of a poem entirely. For such a tiny dot, periods do a lot of work.

– gives us some time to think, but doesn’t remove us at all from the line. It pauses us, but not in the same way as a blank space, which fills us with empty silence. The dash still makes visual noise on the page.

: v. ; One gives us the same feeling as a period: a full throttle stop before we continue reading. It compares the thing before to the things after, sometimes offering a definition. To me, the semicolon rolls us a long a bit more; it’s when you want a period, but without necessarily completely strangling the end of your line sentence. It also works to give more connection to the two lines connected with the semicolon; the comma at the bottom seems to lessen the harshness, and draw the ideas closer together.

() – whispers to us; gives the things inside the () more connection to one another whilst lessening the connection to things outside the (). It’s as though the () lives outside the reality of the poem. Of course, I’m actually not sure this is always true – sometimes () can give us information about things within the poem (almost as though these things contradict the reality the rest of the poem presents?).

, – slow down, pause. Take a breath here. The lack of these can build speed, as if therewerenospaces when we know we’re supposed to breathe. Finding them where they are unnecessary slows   us    down, without bringing us to the full halt of a period.

! – excitement, or surprise. Gives emphasis to whatever came before – generally, I think, happy emphasis or sarcastic emphasis. ! look to happy to be anything but.

& vs + – the ampersand is so much more pretentious than the + sign. While both of them speed us through the ‘and’ and bring the two things on either side into more immediate connection, the + sign is casual in a way the ampersand is not. & is more formal than +, but I actually think it’s also softer – the curves beat out the straight lines of the + sign, so that a + probably can’t be used in a soft, sweet, and gentle poem. It’s harsh like a ‘k’ or a ‘t’ can be, while the & is more of an ‘m’ or ‘s’. (I feel like I totally overanalyzed that one. Woah)

? – questions in poems always seem melancholy to me; maybe it’s in the curve of the hook.

What are your thoughts on the above and more?

Poems that Fit Together

In thinking about my portfolio due (thankfully!) the 14th of December, I was considering how poems ‘fit together’. Dr. Smith asked us to consider how one poem leads to another, the order we place the poems in.

This makes me nervous. No matter what poems I choose to pick (be it a specific set of science poems that “go” together, like a put-together outfit), I can’t imagine deciding how I’ll arrange them. Does each poem leave a lingering aftertaste, that affects the poem after it? How does it affect it? How do you decide, then, how to move from one poem to the next? Is it based on sound, emotion, content, narrative, narrator? What elements, what combination, do you use to connect your poems together?

Or is it more about the poet (not just in this case, but all cases) – showing how we’ve grown, through the process of these works? Do we save what we are most proud of for the end, to pack a punch, or put it at the beginning, to draw people into reading the rest? Do funny, sarcastic, cheeky etc poems work better for beginnings, so that people don’t leave our works behind as too sad?

In some respects, I see cases where – very clearly – I will want to put certain poems first. If I ever due a chapbook, where the vocabulary builds, the less vocab-dense poems will be at the beginning and the more dense at the end. Is this the same with content, however? Are all arrangements supposed to be building toward a final point, a message, a moral?

It is especially intriguing because, this semester, I’ve begun to branch out a little – write more specific scientific poetry and less word-nostalgia poetry, but poetry with narrative to it beyond the sounds of the words. In a showcase of several works, do I want there to be a cohesive thread so that one doesn’t jump from poem to poem with a spinning head (I did not mean for that to rhyme)?

How are you all thinking of arranging poems, and choosing poems to include?

Meditative Sound

So I went to a GOLD workshop this afternoon on breathing and meditation, and the Buddhist woman leading the workshop told us that ‘all sound is meditative’ and played a really awesome recording of Tibetan singing bowls which blew my mind (the creation of the noise is as much a meditative exercise as listening to it). But she was saying, in the tradition of mindfulness, that someone laughing or talking loudly or cars beeping outside your window – all these sounds can be meditative.

Is poetic sound on the page, in our minds, wherever we feel it resonates, meditative? Is it more or less meditative if it makes sense, instead of simply being ‘nonsense’ language? I had never thought of poetry as particularly meditative, but neither had car horns struck me in such a manner before this exercise. What makes a sound more naturally meditative? It’s lethargy, it’s sweetness, it’s softness? If it calms our racing thoughts? Can a poem be meditative for one person, and not for another?

Is your poetry meditative – or do you know of any poetry that you would describe as meditative?  Is the creation of poetic sound as much of a meditative exercise as the ‘listening/reading’ the sound?

When I googled ‘Meditative Poetry’ I found a wiki article about Eastern and European traditions, in which meditative poetry ‘combines the religious practice of meditation with verse’. It is not, though it can be confused with, poetry written simply to relax someone or give them release. It does not, however, really seem to get at what would be considered meditative poetry (meditations written in verse?). It sites Edward Taylor (a Puritan minister, so forgive the funny speeelings [sp]) as a meditative poet – I have pasted a poem below. Feel free to respond to that poem, the difference between Western and Eastern meditative poetry, or any of the above mumbling.

What Love is this of thine, that Cannot bee
In thine Infinity, O Lord, Confinde,
Unless it in thy very Person see,
Infinity, and Finity Conjoyn’d?
What hath thy Godhead, as not satisfide
Marri’de our Manhood, making it its Bride?
Oh, Matchless Love! filling Heaven to the brim!
O’re running it: all running o’re beside
This World! Nay Overflowing Hell; wherein
For thine Elect, there rose a mighty Tide!
That there our Veans might through thy Person bleed,
To quench those flames, that else would on us feed.
Oh! that thy Love might overflow my Heart!
To fire the same with Love: for Love I would.
But oh! my streight’ned Breast! my Lifeless Sparke!
My Fireless Flame! What Chilly Love, and Cold?
In measure small! In Manner Chilly! See.
Lord blow the Coal: Thy Love Enflame in mee.

The Omnipresent Narrator

So, I was looking into narrators this week because I’m struggling with appropriately characterizing a narrator in one of my poems. My preliminary research suggests there are three types of narrators in poetry:

  1. A narrator who is involved, perhaps as a main character, in the events of the story
  2. A narrator who is present and tells what she observes
  3. A narrator relating events completely outside a moment she was present for

Can you switch between these narrators in the same poem? What would be the effects? If you switch the narrator, must you always switch the person? It seems 1 and 2 could be interchangeable with some chronology work, but not 3. Are certain narrators omniscient?

Every piece of poetry has a narrator (Or is that actually true?) – every piece of poetry with a story has a narrator. How separate can the narrator ever be from the poet – is the narrator not always, in some ways, a reflection of the poet?

For example, when thinking about writing minorities, would I always be writing the minority experience through the lens of a white woman, perhaps through the lens of a white woman’s certain lack of privilege? Is there any way to disengage from my own truth in a poem, and simply write what the poem wants to be?

Or is the fact that I am the person in which the poem originated going to color it so much that it, and the narrator within it, can never truly be separate from me?

A Love Poem

Hi everyone – happy Friday!

I discovered a poem today, here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/250878, called Fast Gas, by Dorianne Laux. I promise it is worth the read.

I was looking up love poems, because I’ve always thought them to be a peculiar breed – so overdone, right? It was brought on by my boyfriend, asking why I only ever wrote about things that were sad and I thought, dammit, I’ll write about something happy – I’ll write a love poem! Which turned out to be a mess, because love poem can become so… trite? so easily.

So anyway, I was researching love poems and I found this one and it spoke to me and I was hoping it might speak to some of you and – if it did – that you might tell me why. I found this poem to not be trite at all; when I read it aloud, the words made my mouth feel full and my skin heat just a little, and most of the poem is not about love and yet it is.

For me, I think, that’s what was key – the poem used content to tell two stories; every line worked two ways telling a story of gasoline and a story of love (and the way love can be explosive, just like that fuel). Especially, I loved the way these lines worked: “the gas/backed up, came arcing out of the hole/ in a bright gold wave and soaked me — face, breasts,/belly and legs”. Love explodes out of that place we can’t see inside us, a bright and golden (so positive!) wave, soaking our whole body in hormones and making our whole body, from face to legs (and especially breasts, thrown in there perhaps for a little sexualization), tingle. The next set of lines I particularly loved: ”

Light-headed, scrubbed raw, I felt
pure and amazed — the way the amber gas
glazed my flesh, the searing,
subterranean pain of it, how my skin
shimmered and ached, glowed
like rainbowed oil on the pavement.

” Doesn’t that seem just like love? Making us light-headed, making us feel raw and amazed. It contains that pain and yet that shimmering beauty. It covers the ordinary nature of us, the asphalt, with the beauty of the rainbow, glowing. “Shimmered and ached” – that feels like love to me.

All this being said, I almost wish the poem had not transitioned into being so explicitly about love; I was feeling the metaphor so strongly that when it transitioned and was explicitly mentioned I was disappointed for having it all explained to me. Did others feel the same?

Another love note (haha- get it?) was for the form. The run-on,  no stanza breaks made me feel the love, and its tension, full throttle with no stopping. It was certainly fast gas. There was no time to stop and take a breath, and love is often that way; fast and all-consuming.

I also wondered if this poem spoke to me simply because of my past experiences – my dad and I spend hours in the garage together, and he has worked on cars his whole life. Thus anything about cars, even the smell of gasoline, can feel like love (though paternal love, generally) to me and evoke a sense of, at the very least, contentment. Did it speak to others, even without this background?

Where Does Your Poetry Come From?

Hi all!

I was reading through all the responses to my ‘found poetry’ post – lots of great stuff going on there. It lead me to think about where we find inspiration for our poetry.

It’s been a really long time since I’ve written a poem – the one I shared last week was written freshman year of college (three years ago for me!), and since then poetry has been kind of a non-existent thing for me. I remember I used to get inspiration for my poetry at the Slam Poet Society; I would listen to some incredible performances in person, get a prompt, and off I’d go, full of ideas. We talked the first day in class about finding inspiration in music; and in my last post, we discovered a poet who found inspiration in other’s words.

As I work on regaining my poetry skillz, I wonder where I’ll be able to find my inspiration. Largely, so far, I’ve found it in the words themselves – words I’ve been desperate to use, to say, to love. With the writing exercises, I’m struggling to ‘fit’ in the box of the prompts, wanting to spill my words all over the place, with no organization, even if I am somehow feeling ‘inspired’ to write at that moment. It seems like, however, that kind of inspiration is going to lead me nowhere new, and so I’m seeking different sources. Are there different kinds of inspiration, that will lead to poems of different forms, shapes, pun-i-ness, etc?

What do you all use for inspiration? How do your different sources lead to different poems? What do you do to get past your ‘writer’s block’ – which I find especially difficult when attempting to write poetry? If we listen to music to garner inspiration, should we credit that music for all it gave us?

Lastly, I’d be really interested in hearing what inspiration feels like to you. Is it a collected focus, a will to work and research and refine? Is it vague, crazy, disorganized passion on the page? How do you make the feeling of your inspiration ‘work’ for you? Do you even need to feel inspired to write poetry? Is the source, and the depth, of your initial passion an integral piece of the work that will never disappear, even with extensive revision?

Thanks for your thoughts!

Found Poetry

American, the Hallelujah is a found poem – meaning, of course, that the author found these words elsewhere and reordered, edited, etc to make this poem. The poem immediately made me question first, the validity or originality of found poetry, and second, if being a ‘found’ poem helped this poem gain any meaning.

While the structure of the alphabetical progress was cool, and we definitely got some great rhythm out of all that punctuation, I struggled to garner any ‘message’ from the poem, especially with things like ‘From every stormy’ (perhaps referencing affliction?) and ‘Hear what the voice’ written in. I did enjoy some of the sounds in this poem – the s-section in particular rolled over me nicely, but the rest of it was so punctuated I felt like I was being stopped over and over and over. It made it so choppy, it got irritating. I tried to find a message – a theme – and found, perhaps, the hardships of our nation that bind us ‘trembling captives’ together? Thoughts?

And then the validity of found poetry. I know poetry seems to be a genre with infinite rules, and the infinite capacity to break or re-arrange them, but it seems like ‘found poetry’ is a pretty way to advocate plagarism. I think if I went up to my literature professor and presented a ‘found essay’ they would not be terribly receptive. What is it about poetry that allows other people’s words, rearranged and tweaked, to become a new person’s art? Is there a rule for how much can be ‘found’ from one source, or how much it must be changed to become new? How do we determine when someone has simply added line breaks to another’s thoughts and claimed ‘originality’? Could the author have gotten across this theme better using his own original words, or is there something especially poignant in those recollected phrases from ‘America the Beautiful’?


“To Certain Students” – V. Penelope Pelizzon

This poem’s title caught my attention, simply because of the relevancy… you know. students.

I loved this poem because it honors the creative writer, the lover of art, music, dance, writing, reading, theater – something I feel like happens less and less these days (exemplified by the pre-law for poetry (“my parents would kill me”). As a Biology-CW double major, I often get asked what I’m planning to do with the biology – the writing is assumed to be a hobby. Especially as, this summer, I considered swinging my career path from biology graduate school to some sort of freelance writing career, this poem struck a chord with me. My parents will definitely kill me.

I think this poem’s last few lines really draw out the beauty of being a writer. I loved how moving the last line was – the idea of young, green things (students) moving this ‘oldest tree’ (presumably the writer, the teacher) to tears. I thought the metaphor was beautiful, especially considering the earlier metaphor of all the cold snow getting in between the trees as she writes about the students I’m assuming do not draw her from stupor at the new day’s bell.

I also have a special love for nature writing, and think that the connection between nature and creativity is incredibly close – it interests me that the author seems to be inside, closed in for the more despondent parts of the poem (the first few stanzas about the ‘non-certain students’) and, in the emotionally evocative sections, she writes more about nature as if she were the nature.

Lastly, I really enjoyed two of the stanza breaks – between stanzas 5 + 6, and 6 + 7. The poem really go stronger for me from 5 – 7, but I loved how the pauses almost made me go back and re-read, as though ‘you who tried to quit’ meant both as though you tried to quit writing, but your heart couldn’t let you and just you who tried to quit pre-law.

Meghan Barrett