Songs From Unsung Worlds — A Book of Science Poetry

In 1985, the American Association for the Advancement of Science published a book of modern science poetry, of which I am a proud new owner.

The anthology, entitled Songs From Unsung Worlds, arrived in my mailbox yesterday and is already a household favorite. As I read through it I’ve been bookmarking the good poems with sticky tabs, but this effort has proved pointless as nearly every poem is getting tabbed. Here are some of the glorious titles:

  • Evening in a Lab
  • Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand Von Helmholtz
  • My Physics Teacher
  • Marie Curie Contemplating the Role of Women Scientists in the Glow of a Beaker
  • The Concept of Force
  • Orbiter 5 Shows How Earth Looks from the Moon
  • The Universe
  • Ode to the Alien
  • Footnote to Feynman
  • The Supremacy of Bacteria
  • Cancer Research
  • Neural Folds
  • Finnair Fragment
  • The Life of Particles
  • Brief Reflection on the Insect
  • Little Cosmic Dust Poem
  • Perpetual Motion
  • The Causes of Color
  • The Monkish Mind of the Speculative Physicist
  • The Cat in the Box
  • Of How Scientists Are Often Ahead of Others in Thinking, While the Average Man Lags Behind; and How the Economist (Who Can Only Follow in the Footsteps of the Average Man Looking for Clues to the  Future), Remains Thoroughly Out of It
  • St. Augustine Contemplating the Bust of Einstein

The author biographies are really interesting, too. Some of the poets are scientists; some of them are writers interested in science. Here are a couple examples:

  • John Donne (1572-1631), was the most outstanding of the English metaphysical poets. He was also a churchman famous for his spellbinding sermons.
  • Anne S. Perlman’s first career was as a newspaper reporter. She did not begin writing poetry until she was forty-six years old. … Her work often deals with discovery in science and technology. “Perhaps it is the dichotomy inherent in the consequences of science–the power to heal; the power to wreck–that fills me with awe,” she says. “This terrible counterpoint distills itself into a poem.”
  • Lois Bassen … was recently awarded a fellowship by the Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation to complete a novel about mother and daughter scientists, The Mother of Beauty.
  • Robert Frazier has published about two hundred poems, most of them with scientific themes. … Frazier says he is “continually drawn to science in his work because the majority of new words in the English language, and the majority of new concepts and viewpoints are derived from the sciences.”
  • Joseph Matuzak … works for the Flint Red Cross and also part-time in a computer software store. “I think I use science in my poems because facts are the haven of metaphor and symbol, and science is the home of many wonderful facts,” he says. “I agree with Bronowski’s idea that both science and art involve a process of reduction and then synthesis, though I trust that most scientists, being empirical, are less casual with the truth than poets.”
  • George Starbuck teaches writing and literature at Boston University. … As an undergraduate, Starbuck studied mathematics, until he realized “most great mathematicians do their most serious work by the time they hit twenty.”
  • G.F. Montgomery was born in 1921 and was educated as an electrical engineer. … Poetry, he feels, is either a hobby or a disease; he is unable to decide.

The anthology also features a couple poems by Roald Hoffmann, a poet and Chemistry Nobel laureate whom I will be posting about in the near future. To sum up, I highly recommend this book for any science/poetry nerds out there! You can find a used hardcopy for 1 cent plus shipping at Amazon.

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