Notes on Crafting Science Poetry
Consider science news in various forms as a prompt for speculative poetry. But first, let us consider a few things I consider important for science poetry, which also apply to nature poetry, historical poetry, geographical poetry, travelogue poetry and others. (I understand there might be other factors and that all might not agree with me, but these are part of my aesthetics and editorial focus for Silver Blade):
(1) Do not confuse writing about facts with poetic words as poetry (though it might be creative nonfiction). Much more is needed to lift it into poetry. I suggest a core of emotional truth must be present. This is facilitated with metaphors provided by science, nature, etc.—that is, by the subgenre you are using—to develop some aspect of the human condition or humanity, which can touch on socio-economic, political and spiritual issues.
(2) Cleverness/cuteness may entertain, but by itself rarely lifts science writing into the realm of poetry.
Of course, the other major elements of poetry—language, image, music and structure—must be present AND interconnect with each other. Collectively they must provide at an absolute minimum these three things: clarity, rhythm and depth as discussed in “Hearing the Literary Voice in Speculative Poetry”—a presentation at the Alabama Writers Conclave annual workshop in July 2015 at the University of South Alabama Fairhope. (Also obtainable from my blog/website, The Art of Poetry under the Poetry Classroom).
A few examples of my work that I consider science poetry are: “Beyond the Stars” (The Mystic Nebula), “Eulogy for a Voyager” (Red Fez), “Extinction Level Event” (Abyss & Apex), “Organic Chemistry” (3Elements Review), “Meteor Showers from Mars” (The MOON magazine) and “On the Brink of a Spinning Black Hole” (BlazeVOX).
But one doesn’t have to be a scientist to appreciate the wonders of the universe. And like anything else in nature, these wonders have been a continual source of inspiration for just about any kind of writing I have done. That includes setting for a scifi piece, imagined creatures (good and bad), the shear awesomeness of the night sky, and spiritual/meditative pieces. Consider these sources for ideas:
- Astronomy Picture of the Day is a beautiful site supported by NASA, apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html. It has great images that can inform your literary art through ekphrasis. Though not specifically a science poem, “Perspective” is an example of such an inspiration. In January 2006 (that was only one and a half years into seriously writing poetry), I saw a panoramic image of the Milky Way, which stimulated this little poem. The award-winning cited image is very similar to the one that inspired me—the Milky Way—that disc of stars we call our galaxy, which is more than 100,000 light years* in diameter and contains at least 100 billion stars. No wonder we often hear how small and insignificant we humans might be. I was thinking about this when I wrote “Perspective.” (See Postcard Poems & Prose Magazine some time in the near future).
- ScienceNews: Magazine of the Society for Science & the Public is for the informed public and has a plethora of science-based ideas for writing your stories and poems.
* A light year is about 5.85 trillion miles.
John C. Mannone has over 450 works in Windhover, Artemis, Southern Poetry Anthology (NC), Still: The Journal, Town Creek Poetry, Negative Capability, Tupelo Press, Baltimore Review, Pedestal and others. Author of two literary poetry collections—Apocalypse (Alban Lake Publishing) and Disabled Monsters (The Linnet’s Wing’s Press)—he’s the poetry editor for Silver Blade and for Abyss & Apex.
His collection, Flux Lines—a collection of love poetry based on science metaphors—was a semi-finalist for the 2014 Mary Ballard Poetry Chapbook Prize. He won the 2015 Joy Margrave award for creative nonfiction and has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize in Poetry.
He had been a research chemist for Martin Marietta, who helped with the Viking and Voyager missions, an amateur radio astronomer with a specialty in spectral analysis of antenna signals, and he’s a college professor of physics in east TN.
He says, “As a physicist, I often jest about my right-brain coming out of comatose when I started writing poetry. And that my analytical mind informs my poetry with fresh metaphors, but when I marvel at my universe through my telescope of poetry, I am further amazed. Indeed, poetry has enlarged it by teaching me how to think outside the box.”