On Helium, Carbon, Nitrogen, and the Quirks of a Quirky Poet
Knee-deep in the cosmic overwhelm, I’m stricken / by the ricochet wonder of it all: the plain / everythingness of everything, in cahoots / with the everythingness of everything else.
—Dianne Ackerman, from “Diffraction (for Carl Sagan)”
“Helium,” “Carbon,” & “Nitrogen” are micro-poems from a twenty-poem sequence entitled Corpus Callosum, which is the name given to the thick band of nerve fibers that divides (and connects) the brain’s left and right hemispheres, and more importantly, allows for communication between them. I thought this was the perfect title for a series of poems based on the first twenty elements, poems dedicated to exploring the intersections of hard science, human narrative, and our emotional responses to each. Thus, the poems are not merely based on the scientific properties of the elements, but the history behind their discoveries/discoverers, as well as my own experiential reference points and contexts for understanding.
I’m not exactly a science geek, but I love the geological, biological, and medical sciences. It’s rare for me to not be straddling at least one of those spheres alongside the personal. My son, who has non-verbal Autism, has been the focus of much of my work, as well as the geology and geography of the Southwest, in addition to anything ornithological (dead or alive, two-dimensional or three). But given that science isn’t my first language, I tend to gravitate toward the narratives of minerology and neurology. In those vast expanses of foreign terminology, I find the language of poetry, which is also the language of discovery—of discovering proofs and theories, subjective and universal truths, intersections of logos and pathos, contact zones between the indigenous and the imaginary landscapes of the self.
If I had to classify myself, I’d say I’m a confessionalist with a quirky scientific bent, which might just make me quirky. I’m rarely witty or funny in verse—I save my humor for my fiction. I suppose my fervent belief in “poetic education and access for everyone” has also led me to explore and tout the benefits that come from regular and creative commingling of the sciences and the arts. Poetry is a form of processing, of personalizing the universal and spitting it back out again as a newly hybridized product. What could be more important for us to practice (and celebrate) in the 21st century than the hybridization of form, which is comparable to the multi-modal nature by which we transmit all other types of information? If news and entertainment can be blended so effectively, why not science and art? Perhaps the latter is the only thing we should be striving for.