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Science and Poetry

During the month of April, Poetry Month, we at Books We Read shouldn’t abandon our main focus: science. After all, Chang is a science library! Here comes the missing post about the intersections of poetry and science.

Run a search in QuickSearch or Google the topic, whichever you wish, and you will be surprised. So were we. The following results illustrate only the tip of the proverbial iceberg with a topic presenting itself as a great one for a dissertation. But which department would that candidate fit in? (Nick says “literature and science” is indeed a hot topic in literature, if not the other way around!)

poemAmong the top ten science poems are some oldies, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s poem from 1829, Sonnet – To Science and Walt Whitman’s When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer from 1865.

The ties between poetry go way back in time as explained, with some great examples, in a post entitled Science and Poetry in the American Scientist. Looking around a bit more, one discovers some disputes, such as an article figuring out which really was the first-ever poem published in a scientific journal.

poemNational magazines and scholarly journals got involved long ago. An article How poetry can help communicate science in Scientific American explains that poetry is an effective medium through which to communicate new research and even advance scientific knowledge. The author, Sam Illingworth, also writes The Poetry of Science blog, which presents new scientific research via the medium of poetry, along with podcasts and a book entitled A sonnet to science: Scientists and their poetry by the same author (Manchester University Press, 2019).

Then there is this article in The New Yorker, called Ode on a stethoscope, which provides a some background on poetry published in medical journals. Additionally, JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, a peer-reviewed medical journal, actually has a whole section called Poetry and Medicine, which publishes poems written by artists and physicians to address the experience and meanings of healing and illness. A heart-wrenching poem entitled Alzheimer Aubade written by Marjorie Maddox is just one sample of this extraordinary selection, going back to 1998 (Rutgers-restricted).

Did you know that there has been a Hippocrates Conference on Poetry and Medicine held annually for over ten years? The Hippocrates Initiative for Poetry and Medicine also solicits entries for the Hippocrates Prize Awards every year in three categories; one of them is solely for health service employees, students and anyone working in education and training of health professional students and staff.

For those with an aversion to science, a source that we must have mentioned a few times this month, the Poetry Foundation, comes to help with Ten Poems to Get You Through Science Class This Year––among them one entitled Poker Star by Richard Brautigan.

Check out some other thematic collections from the Poetry Foundation:

Finally, another great resource, the Poem Hunter, lists 446 poems related to science written by famous poets. These poems can be on the shorter side and as such provide some instant gratification for those who love reading poetry and reflecting on what they have read. They each come with recorded recitations, which add a special value to the poems.

Finishing this post with one of my favorite poems listed among those, Science Means To Know by Andy Caldwell. I am so glad that I started.