Poets & Scientists

The global pandemic of COVID-19 has drawn into stark attention the fragility of human worlds in which we dwell and, in this crisis, scientists have played significant roles on the world stage. Consider the mountains moved by scientists speeding a vaccine into existence. But we might also consider the role of environmental scientists who have been warning for decades of the possibility of a pandemic. The still-present skepticism of environmental science in the U.S. is detrimental to public awareness and acceptance of the realities of climate crisis.

This project bringing together poets and scientists aims to see what can happen when they enter into a conversation about poetry, science, and the environment. All of the meetings between poets and scientists took place in the context of the global pandemic, and I was lucky enough to eavesdrop on each one.

To hear the poems, please join us on Friday 21st May 2pm EST / 7pm BST for a panel discussion with the poets and scientists. Please sign up for the link on Eventbrite. 

Ruth Awad & Kerry Ard

Poet Ruth Awad talked to professor Kerry Ard about the pressure that environmental crisis puts on low income communities, often people of the global majority in the West, and in developing countries. Ruth Awad is a Lebanese-American poet with a terrific, award-winning debut Set to Music a Wildfire. Much of Awad’s work grapples with what it is to be the daughter of an immigrant family in the USA. Scientist Kerry Ard’s work looks at environmental inequalities that often lead to health disparities for less privileged groups. Awad’s resulting poem ‘The Little Ice Age of Hard Truths’ explores a climate disaster of the past, which coincided with a rise in witch hunts.

Kathy Fagan & Lauren Pintor

A professor in aquatic ecology, Lauren Pintor studies species interaction in ecological communities. For example, near Lake Erie, a new species of crayfish pushed out the “natives,” but allowed predators and the ecosystem to thrive. If humans tried to intervene, the impact would be unpredictable. A National Poetry Series selected poet and finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, Kathy Fagan is a New-Yorker transplanted to Ohio, “a city kid raised on Irish folklore, so all of nature was imbued with magical dignity.” In ‘October,’ Fagan joyfully, woefully considers the impact of human beings on nature and of nature on human beings.

Khaty Xiong & Becky Mansfield

Becky Mansfield, a professor of geography, studies the biosocial causes and consequences of diverse human relationships with nature. Mansfield talked about how traditional ideas of separation between humans and nature are giving way to new, fluid understandings of nature-society dynamic, and Khaty Xiong has a unique take on that. Her family’s relationship with the land was one of toil and hard work as fruit pickers in California. Xiong’s debut Poor Anima was the first full-length collection of poetry to be published by a Hmong woman in the U.S. and her ‘On Memory of Another Body in Another Time’ captures something of her family and their life.

Rosebud Ben-Oni & Zakee L. Sabree

Evolutionary ecologist Zakee L. Sabree’s research studies the influence of microbes on living things – cockroaches in particular. One technique is to create germ-free cockroaches to see how they respond when microbes are introduced. Sabree told how an ordinary cockroach in a dark room will scuttle away to a dark corner, while a germ-free cockroach will remain still. How much of our autonomy really belongs to us and how much to the microbes in our gut? Drawing on her Mexican and Jewish heritage, Rosebud Ben-Oni is a bright, new talent with an interest in poetry and science. In ‘Poet Wrestling with Tagging Maligned Insects,’ she writes a letter to Zakee, struggling to reconcile herself with the complexities of the cockroach.