The poet and the scientist, part II:
wild territory
Tunes for a Monday Morning

The poet and the scientist, part III:
standing in the edgelands

Nattadon 1

Nattadon 2

To end the week, here's one last passage from "Poetry and Science: A View from the Divide" by Alison Hawthorne Deming, discussing the ways we can bridge the gap between the two disciplines.

Deming writes:

"For both science and poetry the challenges lie in taking on the complexity of the most interesting questions (formal, technical, theoretical and moral) within our fields without losing connection with people outside our fields. The idea of poetry with which I grew up was, I suppose, a particularly American one -- that is, as an escape from the burdens of community into extreme individuality, a last bastion of rugged individualism from which one could fire salvos at an ever more remote, corrupt and inane culture.

"Historically, however, the voice of poetry has not always been construed to be the heightened voice of individualism. Among the original forms of humanity, art was unified with prayer and healing science. Poems and songs were manifestations of a collective voice, of spells and visions, of spirits returning from the dead. Such poetry transcended individualism, rather than celebrating it. We may have gained much in terms of technical and artistic refinement through our specialized disciplines, but we have lost the belief that we can speak a common language or sing a common healing song.

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"If poetry today needs anything, it needs to move away from its insular subjectivity, its disdain for politics and culture and an audience beyond its own aesthetic clique. A poem reaches completion in finding an audience. The challenge today is to reach an audience not composed solely of members of one's tribe. We must write across the boundaries of difference. A poet finds a voice by holding some sense of audience in mind during the process of composition. It is one of the questions most frequently asked of poets: for whom do you write? And the answers range from writing for posterity to writing for (or against) one's literary predecessors, from writing to an intimate other to, as Charles Wright once said, writing for the better part of oneself.

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"I write with an inclusive sense of audience in mind, hoping to cross the boundaries that separate people from one another. I would like to write a poem that other poets would appreciate for its formal ingenuity, that scientists would appreciate for its accuracy in attending to the phenomenal world, that the woman at the checkout counter at Safeway would appreciate for its down-to-earth soul, and that I would appreciate for its honesty in examining what troubles and moves me.

"The great biology-watcher Lewis Thomas once raised the challenge: 'I wish poets were able to give straight answers to straight questions, but that is like asking astrophysicists to make their calculations on their fingers, where we can watch the process. What I would like to know is: how should I feel about the earth, these days? Where has all the old nature gone? What became of the wild, writhing, unapproachable mass of the life of the world, and what happened to our panicky excitement about it?'

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"And if science today needs anything, it needs to move out of its insular objectivity, its pretense that it deals only with facts, noth with ethical implications or free-market motives. What science creates is not only facts but metaphysics -- it tells us what we believe about the nature of our existence, and it fosters ever new relationships with the unknown, thereby stirring the deepest waters of our subjectivity."

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In the concluding pages of her essay, Deming returns to the place where art and science meet, the wild borderland between the two.

"In ecology the term 'edge effect' refers to a place where habitat is changing -- where a marsh turns into a pond or a forest turns into a field. These places tend to be rich in life forms and survival strategies. We are animals that create mental habitats, such as poetry and science, national and ethnic identities. Each of us lives in several places other than our geographic locale, several life communities, at once. Each of us feels both the abrasion and the enticement of the edges where we meet other habitats and see ourselves in counterpoint to what we have failed to see. What I am calling for is an ecology of culture in which we look for and foster our relatedness across disciplinary lines without forgetting our differences. Maybe if more of us could find ways to practice this kind of ecology we would feel a little less fragmented, a little less harried and uncertain about the efficacy of our respective trades, and a little more whole. And poets are, or at least wish they could be, as Robert Kelly has written, 'the last scientists of the Whole.' "

If poets are indeed "the last scientists of the Whole," I contend there are writers of fantasy and mythic artists standing right beside them.

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The Edges of the Civilized World by Alison Hawthorne Deming

Words: The passage above, is from "Poetry and Science: A View from the Divide," published in The Edge of the Civilized World: A Journey in Nature and Culture by Alison Hawthorne Deming (Picador, 1998), and highly recommended. The poem in the picture captions is from Deming's  Science & Other Poems (Louisiana State Universit Press, 1994). All rights reserved by the author. Photographs: The pictures in the last two posts were taken at the top of Meldon Hill. Today's pictures were taken on the second of Chagford's iconic two hills, Nattadon Hill, looking out over Meldon (rust red in autumn) and the rising moor beyond. Nattadon is close to my studio, so the hound and I ramble up its bracken-clad slope nearly every day.


The following has just been written and so is dog rough, but I hope it can still be understood.


Science, eh?
A two-edged sword:
or a sodding great blade
that can cleave your brain
like a fruit knife
through an over-ripe grape.

I suppose it's only fair
that it'll be science that'll
solve the problem of pollution
made by the machines
created by science itself.

And perhaps one day
it'll find a way of stopping people
breeding with such monotonous
that almost every other species
has been driven
to the edge of extinction;
and some even over the brink
into an abyss
that maybe science will solve
once they've sorted
how to clone life
from the few cells that survive.

So am I a fan of science...?
Modern medicine,
modern dentistry,
set against
nuclear weapons,
over population,
global warming
and the prospect of people
like Putin and Trump
living for ever...

The jury is out;
Perhaps we can vote
when we've cleaned up
after the next war,
the weapons for which
will be made by the very same science
that'll find ways of cleaning up
the mess we'll undoubtedly make
after the next war.

Hi Stuart,

It is always a two edged sword -- an I like the way you explore that concept in this interesting poem. I definitely agree with the uncertainty expressed here about the impact and positive/benefial influence of science. After all, it has its dangerous drawbacks as you mention with the mess we make with war and other things like fracking and the develop of new medications that lead to overuse and side-effects often worse than the disease itself. These lines are really pertinent and ring so true --

The jury is out;
Perhaps we can vote
when we've cleaned up
after the next war,
the weapons for which
will be made by the very same science
that'll find ways of cleaning up
the mess we'll undoubtedly make
after the next war.

Thanks for sharing this, I enjoyed reading your perspective.


Standing In The Edgeland

The wind wants to tear down my fence
loosening the palings and pushing forth
the openness of an edgeland, my garden spilling
into a field of Joshua trees. Coyotes, jack rabbits
and others could enter -- but the dust needs no barrier;
it never did. It carries secrets of the land
and of those buried beneath, the pungent smell
of drought. I'm reluctant to breach this grove of trees
sheltering ghosts and ravens, the tribe of my sins
and those messengers who would tell me what has been cast. Science
calls this place a high desert habitat -- with little rain
and four seasons. I know better. It's where you come to listen
on the border of nowhere and everywhere, wanting to solve
the riddle of what sings in your bones, the disquiet that quarantines,
renders you vulnerable -- to imagination and what she hides
in her hood of fur. Her most primal state.

I love science and the arts...visual or verbal. Thanks for sharing these thoughts and words...and photos of your environment! I'll be in my studio soon this afternoon, puttering away and continuing to think about edges and the edgeland. I've considered it as the borders between types of nature, like a seashore, or the rocks along a stream. There is a power source there.

Stuart, who's very name encompasses the edge of art, the poem makes me think a lot, but dark thoughts. Rather I see the edge as prolix, and even if humans do not abyss themselves, we have been unknowingly clearing the way for future species, though most will be one-celled, constantly reinventing.


Oh that primal urge for both constuction and deconstruction! Thanks for this poem in its beauty and bones.


Edge effect

Here at the cliff's edge,
where we begin an armageddon,
nature runa riot.
Little molds, once solid,
rush like rivers,
their very cells
implicating, replicating,
faciliating change.
They dream bones,
who do no have them.
Edges are full of mystery
if we allow ourselves
to believe.
It is not a gulf
but a stewpot.
Put in a toe.

©2018 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Are we then only the agents of Mass Extinction, rather like an ice age or a meteorite strike? Hardly a comforting thought; I once expected and hoped better of us. I feel like someone who's been reading a long and interesting novel who comes to realise that their favourite character is actually a complete sod who'll end by destroying the beautiful home they live in and everyone in it. Still, I suppose the human animal, by its very nature, is more suited to the role of anti-hero than anything else.

Imagination wearing a hood of fur...Mary Shelley, Poe and M.R. James would have known this lady well. Sorry that I rarely have much to say about your work, Wendy, but I find praising the eminently praiseworthy a bit restricting!

Hi Jane

Thank you so much for your wonderful perspective and comments here. I deeply appreciate them! I think we must be driven by our instincts as well as our heads. Imagination when let free, runs in many diverse directions and some of its best material lurks in those wild corners. Sometimes, it takes having the courage to confront them or that territory where the unknown abounds and we hesitate to cross into it. I know: I'v stood on the edge often and wondered where I should go next.

Again, thank you!
my best always

Hi Stuart

Thanks so much for this wonderful response to my poem, I really appreciate it! I guess Mary, Poe and M.R. James would know her well. And I wonder on how many sleepless nights they may have encountered her. All these writers are some of my favorite and their imaginations are breathtaking! Again, thank you!

My Best

Hi Jane

Yes, exactly what "the edge effect" can do and become!

Edges are full of mystery
if we allow ourselves
to believe.
It is not a gulf
but a stewpot.
Put in a toe.

We can evolve by embracing the unknown, the risk of seeking it and releasing that inner fear to pursue it. I really like the idea of "edges" blending into a "stewpot" allowing us to mix all the experiences, motives, discoveries, and consequences together to initiate change. Change is the basis of our survival. Wonderful poem! thank you, as always, for sharing it.

I'm not sure whether I'm reading this correctly or not, but are you saying that the future will be dominated by a flora and fauna of single-cell creatures (indeed, do terms such as 'flora' and 'fauna' apply to a single-cell life form?)and that the multicellular dinosaurs such as ourselves are doomed to extinction? If so, I can't say that I'm particularly encouraged; at least this biological haiku of a New World allows itself to 'dream bones'. Constructed well, as usual of course, but speaking from an entirely personal view-point, rather depressing

This kind of change is what evolutionary geographers talk about. A dear friend who is one and I talk about it, he disputing the neo-Darwinists. (He worked with Lynn Margulies.)

Well, I'm with the Darwinists, 'neo' or otherwise. There just isn't the same sense of 'Posterity' if your future is nothing more than a bucketful of single-cell slime. I know I'm not being logical, rational or any number of other sterile words ending in 'al', but I deperately hope your friend is wrong. Long live Darwinism; The meek may well inherit the earth, but I was hoping that meant people who are prepared to compromise, understand the views of others and be generally kind in outlook, not some amoeba that might climb up some innocent's rectum and give them diarrhea!

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