Poetry & Science

“…a strong love for the natural world, an ongoing fascination with the hidden nature of the unvierse, and a compulsive pleasure in putting things together and seeing what happens…”

Is this from the bio of scientist? A poet? Maybe it’s either of them, or someone who’s both and more. When it comes to creative writing and scientific inquiry, lines of professional demarcation don’t always hold.

Poetry and science have always had overlapping territory.

For instance, the University of Washington’s Creative Writing department got together with the Marine Biology department and came up with a great idea: throws poets, scientists, and students together on a boat, and see what happens. The class is still ongoing, and you can read more about it in this 2015 article from Seattle’s Stranger


In April of this year, Maria Popova of Brain Pickings hosted a poetic tribute to science. Along with the Academy of American Poets and astrophysicist Janna Alvin, Popova gathered poets and celebrity authors in Boston for The Universe in Verse, an evening of poems about science and scientists.


Here’s a highlight: Sarah Jones performing a poem by Campbell McGrath about Jane Goodall.

(Jane Goodall was one of my Big Three childhood heroes, which also included Eugenie Clark and Indiana Jones. I love this reading.)


And here’s a link to Ten Poems to Get You Through Science Class, from the Poetry Foundation, including this one by Susan Mitchell, “The Bear.”


The Bear

by Susan Mitchell


Tonight the bear
comes to the orchard and, balancing
on her hind legs, dances under the apple trees,
hanging onto their boughs,
dragging their branches down to earth.
Look again. It is not the bear
but some afterimage of her
like the car I once saw in the driveway
after the last guest had gone.
Snow pulls the apple boughs to the ground.
Whatever moves in the orchard—

heavy, lumbering—is clear as wind.

The bear is long gone.
Drunk on apples,
she banged over the trash cans that fall night,
then skidded downstream. By now
she must be logged in for the winter.
Unless she is choosy.
I imagine her as very choosy,
sniffing at the huge logs, pawing them, trying
each one on for size,

but always coming out again.

Until tonight.
Tonight sap freezes under her skin.
Her breath leaves white apples in the air.
As she walks she dozes,
listening to the sound of axes chopping wood.
Somewhere she can never catch up to
trees are falling. Chips pile up like snow
When she does find it finally,
the log draws her in as easily as a forest,
and for a while she continues to see,
just ahead of her, the moon
trapped like a salmon in the ice.


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