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

The poet and the scientist, part II:
wild territory

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Following on from yesterday's post, here's another passage from Alison Hawthorne Deming's award-winning essay, "Poetry and Science: A View from the Divide." Once again, her words can also apply to the writing of fantasy literature, that most poetic of literary forms; specifically, to the kind of fantasy that is rooted in a strong sense of place and deeply engaged with the wild world (including imaginary wild worlds).

Deming writes:

"I think of poetry as a means to study nature, as is science. Not only do many poets find their subject matter and inspiration in the natural world, but the poem's enactment is itself a study of wildness, since art is the materialization of the inner life, the truly wild territory that evolution has given us to explore. Poetry is a means to create order and form in a field unified only by chaos; it is an act of resistance against the second law of thermodynamics that says, essentially, that everything in the universe is running out of steam. And if language is central to human evolution, as many theorists hold, what better  medium could be found for studying our own interior jungle? Because the medium of poetry is language, no art (or science) can get closer to embodying the uniqueness of human consciousness. While neuroscientists studying human consciousness may feel hampered by their methodology because they can never separate the subject and object of their study, the poet works at representing both subject and object in a seamless whole and, therefore, writes a science of the mind.

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"I find such speculation convincing, which is probably why I became a poet and not a scientist. I could never stop violating the most basic epistemological assumption of science: that we can understand the natural world better if we become objective.
Jim Armstrong, writing in a recent issue of Orion, put his disagreement with this assumption and its moral implications more aggressively:

" 'Crudely put, a phenomenon that does not register on some instrument is not a scientific phenomenon. So if the modern corporation acts without reference to "soul," it does so guided by scientific principles -- maximizing the tangibles (profit, product, output) that it can measure, at the expense of the intangibles (beauty, spiritual connectedness, sense of place) that it cannot....'

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"Clearly a divide separates the disciplines of science and poetry. In many respects we cannot enter one another's territory. The divide is as real as a rift separating tectonic plates or a border separating nations. But a border is both a zone of exclusion and a zone of contact where we can exchange some aspects of our difference, and, like neighboring tribes who exchange seashells and obsidian, obtain something that is lacking in our own locality."

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The subject of "borders" is especially relevant to creators of fantasy, for ours is a field that borders on others, and one that is often most fertile in those places where the edges meet. Border-crossing is thus part of a mythic artist's vocation, but it's not always a simple or comfortable one. As Sergio Trancoso writes poignantly: "I am in between. Trying to write to be understood by those who matter to me, yet also trying to push my mind with ideas beyond the everyday. It is another borderland I inhabit. Not quite here nor there. On good days I feel I am a bridge. On bad days I just feel alone."

Some previous posts on borders and edgelands: On the Border, Crossing Borders, The Borders of Language, Twilight Tales, Crossing Over, and We are Storied Folk.

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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), which I highly recommend. The quote by Sergio Troncoso is from Crossing Borders: Personal Essays (Arte Publico Press, 2011). The Jim Carruth poem in the picture captions is from Envoi, #138, June 2004. All right reserved by the authors. Photographs: A walk with husband, hound, and a herd of cows on the top of Meldon Hill.


Exchanging Shells

He came with his people,
curled shells in their packs,
which I favored.
A bit of dark rock
which my brother wanted
to finish a neckpiece.
We had never seen such things,
being far from the great water.
Our rocks were the color of clouds,
picked out with sun.

We traded, of course,
and I became the final trade,
giving up my family for his.
A true exchange.
It made us kin and kind.
It gave me sea.
It gave him gold.
The gods smiled and married.

The world above, below
grew with celebration.

©2018 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Hi Terri

This week's collection of poems and essays have been enlightening, provocative and so beautifully presented. I have always felt that poetry and science can co-exist even become interchangeable. There is , as shown here by Allison Hawthorne Demmings and others. a science to the art of writing, observing and expressing one's experience or theme. And despite the cold hardness of fact and scientific observation, the scientist is still bound by his or her human condition. And something of emotion, opinion and even metaphoric associations come into play when discovering a new phase of science in the natural or even technological world. The late Carl Sagan, to me, was a poet in his own way as well as a brilliant scientist. In both fantasy literature and the real world, we are always crossing boundaries. Things through light, shadow and personal perception shape-shift from one form to another, one idea or dream to another as well as chosen
roles we accept or strive to attain.

I love the pictures in today's post and the poem "Herd" along with these thoughts on "wild territory" and crossing borders. Keeping those themes in mind along with Tuesday's post on the spiritual art of Piero Della Francesca, I have written this poem about art transformed through a shift in place and time, as well crossing over into the territory of modern perception and a familiar landscape. I have imagined how Piero might paint his Madonna in the California Desert, more like a nomadic woman imbued with a sense of humanity and grace, while surrounded by alms for the needy as crows draw back the long darkness of night and the desert morning glory imbibes the morning chill. Her mere presence in this field of dust and dryness gives birth to an awareness of dearth and yet hope.

Imagining Piero's Madonna In The California Desert

On your canvas,
angels would swoop in
as crows pulling back
the long drapery of night; the white throats
of bindweed swallowing
the early chill -- and then
you would paint "her"
poised under a Joshua tree.
Bags of mission clothing
and cookware swollen around her body,
mist sufficing for a veil
while sun-bleached hair
tangles in the wind, and an unstrung rosary
of berries and burrs
spilling from her hand. Her fingers
left stained & scratched, the pigment of sacrifice,
the subtle scraping off
of her mortality.

Again, thank you Terri, for all you do and always enriching us with new ideas and perspectives.

Take care,

Hi Jane

Another beautiful and creative poem! I love the indigenous voice in this poem and its idea of exchanging both cultures and dreams. That is so much a part of "creation" on any level.

We traded, of course,
and I became the final trade,
giving up my family for his.
A true exchange.
It made us kin and kind.
It gave me sea.
It gave him gold.
The gods smiled and married.

The world above, below
grew with celebration.

Thank you for sharing this poem, as always, its a pleasure to read and contemplate.

Take care
my best always

Beautiful and timely topic Borders. Here in the space where my life fits no codes for proper dwelling or community in linear time, your marriage of poet and science is such precious meet/meat.

Reminding me of that wild territory within the longs for a language to express itself in the large outside, it IS at the borders and within that uncommon ground where exchanging culture has potential. My Indigenous Ancestors caution, 'Red Sky in the Morning" ... any time the sky is red be warned. My wandering Mixed-blood nature and experiences pushes to sniff the unknowable.

As ever-I grow reading your comments, try not to preen.
Thanks, Jane

the pigment of sacrifice,
the subtle scraping off
of her mortality.


I have nothing more to say!


Thank you so much Jane!

As always your thoughtful comments and interest in my poems means a great deal!!

Much appreciation and my best always,

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