Science in poetry can be a wonderful and refreshing experience. It’s something I experiment with oftentimes whenever I write poetry, but it’s not an entirely intentional process. It’s just that when I write I pull from a pool of words that float through my mind regularly, and that is diction inevitably influenced by the more interesting subjects that consume my life—those being art and science.
Unfortunately, the use of science in poetry is not an extremely common practice in its explicit form. If you search “science in poetry,” or “scientific poetry,” you’ll find that there are lots of straight rhymed pieces that were designed to help students remember concepts or solicitations for elementary through high school students to write poems about their experiences with science. I certainly have no problem with trying to get younger audiences excited about science or poetic form, but this seems to be the largest demographic interested in scientific poetry. This kind of goes back to the general disdain that many writers seem to have for science. I will divulge that some of that disdain may be due to how tacky some of these attempts are, but there is bad poetry in every form.
I like to think that my work isn’t tacky so I’m going to mention a little about methodology.
One thing that seems to work pretty well in avoiding stereotyped imagery or science-related clichés is actually not writing about science and scientific things specifically. There really isn’t very much that is sexy about materials and methods and raw data. That is one piece of truth I can pull from that moment when I was told that “science isn’t sexy” (as I referenced in last week’s blog). I understand that. The mechanics are often times rigid, monotonous and formulaic not lending that aspect of science for good material to write about.
However, science itself is nothing but a compilation of data and analyses based on observations of nature which does happen to be a fairly common subject-matter of poetry. Naturally, scientific poetry that is successful happens often due to the integration of the two. Examples of this include “When I Heard a Learn’d Astronomer” by Walt Whitman or “Winter Tree” William Carlos Willams. Both allude to science, but don’t write specifically about methodology.
If you’re interested in either poetry, science, or both but just haven’t thought to work the two together, I’d challenge you to try. Use scientific language to a write a poem about something that inspires you, music, contemporary art, fast cars, beautiful snow-covered landscapes, tax law (I actually know a guy who absolutely loves tax law—it’s absurd), the way warm red light travels across your room at dusk, etc. and find a way to change up your diction by incorporating scientific language to create unique and specific descriptions. Maybe even try taking an old poem and rewriting it using scientific language. You might be surprised to find how intriguing and alluring the piece is with a new face.
— Deirdre McCormick, Editor