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Timothy Donnelly: “The Earth Itself”

The unstoppable eccentric visionary antiquarian scholar-priest Athanasius Kircher is pretty high on my list of heroes. Born in 1601 outside the city of Fulda, not far from the geographical heart of today’s Germany, Kircher’s beautifully illustrated books on Egyptology, magnetism, acoustics, Kabbalah, numerology, volcanology and an array of other subjects exuberate over the world’s inexhaustible complexity, its baroque convolution of matter and spirit, sparing no detail as they reveal how all creation is “bound by secret knots.” In his Turris Babel, a treatise on linguistics by way of a compendium of pre-classical architecture, Kircher crunches all kinds of numbers in order demonstrate how doomed an idea the Tower of Babel was, concluding, among other things, that it would have required no fewer than 374,731,250,000,000,000 bricks to build.

Catherine Wing: “Self-Medication”

I hate New Year’s Day. There’s something dull and numb about it—beyond the hangover—that never fails to feel disheartening. Some years ago, when I was still lucky enough to be living in Seattle, my writing group proposed to meet on New Year’s Day as an antidote to the annual drear. Even if we had no new work to share we would at least write something and fend off the prevailing sense of the wasted day. So on January 1, 2008, we were somewhere in our pre-writing preamble when my good friend Ariana mentioned that she had decided not to drink for a while. Now, Ariana is no heavy drinker, quite far from it, and she went on to explain that she was doing so to remind herself where her edges were—because alcohol, it seemed to her, is a kind of situational softener, and she wanted to be reminded of her sharper aspects. By which she meant her more difficult—edgier—self. The poem “Self-Medication” was born entirely from this idea. What are we at our edges and …

Vis-à-Vis Society: “Scientific Method: Am I In Love?” and “Scientific Method: Noir Sestina”

Editor’s note: Our objective is to determine whether the relationship between poetry and science is field-specific, or something. We hypothesize that a sentence will grow best when infected by the same ideas, images and methods that occur within either field.  Preliminary results have been published in the Poetri Dish [experiments in verse] section of Poetry Northwest, Spring & Summer 2012 (v7.n1).  Here, doctors Ink and Owning of Vis-à-Vis Society offer further findings: — Scientific Method: Am I In Love? Question: Am I in love? Research: I sleep in a bed with another, I have held his breath in my mouth. Hypothesis: If I run away, I will know. Experiment: Fog up the window and see whose name your finger writes. Observation: Made it all the way to Vancouver: wrote one name, smudged it out. Results: It is true, the finger moves. Report: Scientists in their lab coats leap to their feet in applause! +++ Scientific Method: Noir Sestina From a broken phone booth she called our her question, under-eye circles purple as bruises told of …

Amit Majmudar: “On Richness of Metaphor”

When it comes to poetry, metaphor is cake to me, and music is icing. Personal details are sprinkles, and frankly I can do without them. The Furor Poeticus is a lit candle stuck in the cake. Or, in the best cases, a lit stick of dynamite. There are poets out there who think of metaphor as an “ornament” to poetry. They go for lush descriptions. They go for hushed statements. They go for wry non sequiturs. My eyes glaze over when I read their work. It helps if they rhyme or scan or something, but even then I get bored. Tell me the hailstorm nails a coffin shut on summer’s green shroud, though, and suddenly my mind is a dachshund flushing out the badger of meaning. I’ve noticed that the poets of my generation really love non sequiturs. Straight non sequiturs are easy. Metaphor is the non sequitur that means. English may be rhyme poor (so I am told; this has not been my experience in practice), but all languages are equally metaphor-rich. O my …

Amit Majmudar: “The Tender-Hearted Hard Science”

Editor’s note: Continuing the Science theme of the current print issue (Spring & Summer 2012, v7.n1), Amit Majmudar reflects on the ability of both poetry and science to “isolate and emphasize important information.” — When I tell people I am a doctor and a writer, the reaction usually has two parts. First comes the mild bewilderment about how I find the time. You get this reaction from other doctors and other writers alike: Both groups know how much dedication is required for competence, let alone excellence, in either field. (I don’t know how other doctor-writers do it, but I don’t sleep much, and when I’m awake, I don’t fool around.) The second part of the reaction is a loss of bewilderment. A little reflection reveals that I am not so special after all—people recall just how many of us there have been, both historical (Sir Thomas Browne, Anton Chekhov, William Carlos Williams) and more contemporary (Robin Cook, Khaled Hosseini, and Michael Crichton, who got famous just in time to avoid a residency). There are a …