Monday, 21 July 2008

Nick Laird on Science and Poetry

Here's an interesting article in which Nick Laird (pictured) ponders -- and even, cautiously, calls for -- a poetics that is more engaged with the universe on a scientific level. It's a topic of great interest to me, and one that I am actively working out through my own recent writing. Here's a snippet:

In general, though, modern poets have taken more easily to Freud than Darwin, for reasons obvious enough: Freud's work privileges the human, Darwin's does not. But the remit of science is forever widening. Neuroscience is asking what the self is made from. Evolutionary biology seeks to explain behaviour. Quantum mechanics overturns notions of causation. Astronomy attempts to discover the texture and origin of the universe. In these inquiries, the "hows" become the "whys".
Just as Emerson called for a new kind of poetry that was commensurate with America, and Whitman obliged, should we hope for poetry capacious enough to map the new countries of science? There are problems. Can complexity of this kind be versified? Poetry evokes better than it explains. There is also, for the poet, the danger of simply being seduced by new terminology, the taste of exotic words. The poem becomes a list. And there is the lack of shared reference. Mention a telephone or tree, a marriage or goose-bumps, and we have some similar notion of what is meant. Our experiences of science are either abstract or mediated. How far can we imagine what a cell is like? Or a radio wave? Outer space comes to us only through telescopes and satellites.
Read the entire article here.
And for further reading, here is Albert Goldbarth's poem "The Sciences Sing a Lullabye."

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