Verse and Universe

I‘ve been hard at work writing a grant and finishing up the story at Spies and Secretaries which goes off line as of March 1st. All this has left me no time for reading a novel, but has been a blessing since it gave me a chance to pick up Verse and Universe: Poems about Science and Mathematics edited by Kurt Brown.

My mother gave it to me this year for my birthday–she started me on poetry and my complete Emily Dickenson, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and several anthologies were either bought for me by her or stolen from her collection. There aren’t many books of poetry dedicated to science, but leave it to my mother to find one for me. I think you can get copies at from the New & Used section.

It is a hefty anthology, split into sections on different topics,
such as Matter and Number and Human. In the introduction, Mr. Brown
makes clear he chose poems about pure science, not technology which "is
really the application of scientific principles for practical, and
economic, ends." As with any anthology, there is a spread of talent and
topic. Some use science as a metaphor for themes and experiences from
human life. Others write about the science itself and the new
perspective it brings to how one looks at the world with wonder,
confusion, or cynicism as one poem, "Astrophsicists" by Bruce Berger
points out, "To how how planetarily trite,/ how cosmically backward we
are,/ They say we’re a junior satellite/ Of a most unpropitious star…"

I appreciate the effort Mr. Brown put into getting scientists for
the anthology and not just poets. Scientists who can comment on their
own life’s work in ways people outside looking in cannot. (I’m the
writer wife of a physicist, so I know this well.) The exquisite little
"Mathematician’s Disclaimer" by Ira Sadoff, "I have given my life to
numbers, and these/ numbers, in return, have given me a life/ I cannot
control," could not have been written by someone less deeply vested in

What I love about poetry is the focus. Poetry forces you to sit down
and appreciate small moments, individuals, little details to the point
these small things become big and the emotions and ideas capture you.
Like atoms, each poem is its own universe. So I find it appropriate
that I was reading this book of poems at the same time a group of
scientists announced the absolute connection between global warming and
human activity. Reactions have been mixed, our own politicians stating
this is a global problem and needs a global solution while we
Americans, for only 5% of the global population, contribute 25% of the
pollution, spending that extra energy lighting empty buildings and
making ice to put into sodas that are already cold.

I wonder if maybe the scientist have gone about this the wrong way.
Maybe if they wrote their findings as poetry, the politicians and the
energy wasters would notice and change. As Tim Seibles writes in
"Something Silver-White":

It is hard to believe this
huge, wet stone is always
flying through space–and hard
to admit there’s really nothing
to hold onto…

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