Today’s post comes from Walt Wojtanik, who proposed writing a guest post about the relationship of science and poetry, inspired by a prompt from the 2015 April PAD Challenge. He explores how poetry helps our understanding of science, history, art, music, and more. Plus, Walt includes a pretty impressive Periodic Table of Poetic Elements. By the way, if you have an idea for a guest post, send me an e-mail at email@example.com with the subject line: Poetic Asides Guest Post.
I sat pondering the prompt for April 16 of the Poetic Asides April PAD Challenge, in which Robert asked us to write a “science” poem. As different thoughts came to mind, it hit me that our pursuit of poetic perfection could be considered a science of sort. And truly, I am far from the first poet to make this assumption. This “Poemology” springs from an inspirational “hypothesis” and the use of specific forms (our formulas) draws this analogy closer. The idea is that there is a science to poetry (and conversely, a poetry in science).
Ruth Padel (www.ruthpadel.com) wrote on the subject in The Guardian and argued the conception that “poetry is all about feeling and science is all about knowing.” “I think this over-romanticizes both poetry and science,” Ms. Padel writes, “which have got on along fine for two millennia and today are enriching their dialogue” She concedes that poetry and science are more attune with each other than they are different.
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The Shared Interests of Poetry and Science
It can certainly be said that they share an interest; connections in which they rely on metaphor and draw a bead on particular thoughts and viable ideas. For as much as these two disciplines have changed, they can be said to hold a loyalty to each other. In the 1700’s, science theory and treatises were written in poetic form. And it can also be seen that poets “dissect” science for inspirations, as much as scientists have been lured by poetic verse.
This association is almost “intimate.” Both stemming from a sense of doubt, and in holding an open mind, it serves both endeavors. In the scientific mind, hypotheses are considered and in the course of discovery, evidence is collected, pro and con. Experimentation is the next course of action and there is a search for a consistent repetition of results. “Scientists, in their unflagging attraction to the unknown, love what they don’t know. It guides and motivates their work.” The long late hours spent in their discovery gives their efforts a mantel that screams poetics!
So too, a poet sits to write a poem, sometimes branching into uncertain and known areas. Scenes open to an image, they invoke a word or inspire a story. We work hard on our skill set, establishing lines, developing a critical ear for the symphonic quality that lives within our language. We poets get comfortable with metaphor and simile, seeing one thing as something else! Who knows if our collected words will become good or even be considered outstanding? And it could take some time to achieve that end. The function of revision could span days/weeks/years.
Scientists and their poetic counterparts regard their environs with a sense of wonder and curiosity. We bear witness to our world and our surroundings, watching/observing and noting our understandings of how what we observe affects us (the observer).
Where Science and Poetry Split
I suppose that where they part ways and share little commonality is in the usage of language. They rarely share words. They tend to claim certain words as their own, in a sense “polarizing” them. Poets gather words as a part of their lexicon, choosing them for the sound and shape of each word; sensing how does a word “feels” rolling on the tongue. The rhythm and meter lend themselves to transforming the words even further (creating an “experiment” of verbosity, as it were).
Words can also abrade against each other and a poet loves the spark/conflagration this friction sets off. A poet desires that fire and feels the heat and sees the light emitted in the expressions they use. A scientist instead would talk of energy, which might convey little to the poet’s eye. They want their poems to burn unbridled into the hearts and minds of the reader, allowing them to capture the visions and expressions so set by the poet.
The scientist uses words that most exactly mean that which they wish to report, meaning one thing and one thing only. Their vocabulary is sanitary, serving a function as merely tools for the scientist much like their beakers and graduates. Have you ever tried to read a science paper? Arid and clinical do not make for casual reading.
So where am I going with all of this? The first thought that creased my cranium when I read the prompt on April 16 had resonated with me all this time. It came in the image of the Periodic Table of Elements. It was the bane of my existence (as I suspect many of ours) during our High School years. But since my love of poetry stemmed during this time as well, I’ve decided to cut it some slack. And so for the sake of science and the poetic process, I have redesigned the grid into the Periodic Table of Poetic Elements, highlighting 118 forms and devices upon which we as poet have come to rely.
Poetry as all Encompassing
So it has become obvious that there is an entire education in the study of poetry! There’s more to poetry than pretty, frilly words, repetitive rhyme and a devotion to emotion! Through our studies we are finding that poetry makes use of mathematics (Fibonacci, Sestina, Haiku, Tanka, Senryu.. ) where we count syllables, lines and stanzas to write our poems.
History is built into the study of poetry in that many poets over generations have inspired us to take up the gauntlet and write in homage to their style, rhythm or attitude. Repeating the past is an education in itself.
Of course, the written word is based on the concepts of language, grammar and literature. These are the studies which give our poems their structure and foundation.
There is music in worded verse, a lyrical expression that lives within the poems we offer.
Art can be expressed through words. I hear there is a poet who makes visual poems, “painting” pictures with his words in a very concrete way.
But now we find that there is also a science to poetry. This pursuit we’re on is a scientific exploration, in a way, as we delve into the workings of this process which consumes us.
 Alice Hawthorne Demming’s essay “Science and Poetry”
Walt Wojtanik is a former Poet Laureate of the Poetic Asides blog and established the Poetic Bloomings site with Marie Elena Good in 2011, which eventually turned into Creative Bloomings. That site has since turned into the Phoenix Rising Poetry Guild.
Regardless of where he posts his material, Walt is a top rate poet and supporter of poets and the poetry they write. If you haven't yet, check out his collection, Dead Poet... Once Removed.