Duke University puts on Science and Society Events once a month, each semester. At their last one, they hosted poet-scientist Bradley Alff to speak about poetry as a form of science communications for scientists. Afterwards they invited some scientists, from middle school to undergrad to graduate studies, to share a poem of their own.
It was quite the event, with lots of great poetry shared. Included in the discussion: what makes a good poem (scientific or otherwise?) What kinds of words should I use? Is jargon ever ok? How do you craft a powerful metaphor or simile? Allf read some notable works during his lecture. The lingering, hesitant syntax of Ross Gay’s A Small Needful Fact captures the slow, careful growth of a plant (and its ecological and human effects) beautifully. The images in Katherine Larson’s Metamorphosis, set among field workers gathering dragonfly larvae in a stream, takes one from the reverence of nature by ancient pagans to the reverence of nature by curious data analysts. Perhaps it’s a response to Poe’s Sonnet – To Science, which argues the rationalism of the scientific revolution whisked the romanticism of mythology and wonder out of the natural world? No, many scientists today have a sense of awe for the very things they pick apart in a laboratory, even if they dismiss the nymphs and goddesses of ancient Greece.
There were plenty of lovely poems shared by guests as well. You have a delightful one on limpets, based on cool molluscan research. A haiku serves as a riddle for the form of astronomy studied by the author. Rain and climate change and controlled burns and lab mice celebrate various corners of the scientific realm. I even got to share my very own sonnet on Maxwell’s laws.
You can watch the presentation, and hear all the poems shared, in their published video.