by Mario Petrucci
now that wind has confused itself with
water we at last breathe you - each caviar
cluster out seeking its lung - your every
germ jiggling & sliming with canker –
while in saucers of coral our hothouse
fungi continue - rise & fan their white
gills to spore you - till even amoebae
in basalt oceans frisk you & take you in
whole - wobbling with energy the way
the jowls of a diner might try to subdue
the peppercorn molars alight on - o see
how we smear ourselves in elements one
on another as a child would in ochre –
how urgent we are to extend that table
none may sit at - till brain-dust carries
on dry surf on fire to complete this grey-
blue circle of planet with one winking star
& we are that grit crackling the seam of
Pheromones and Poems
The fact that I'm an ecologist, as well as a 'lapsed physicist', might explain why I'm forever delving into the interfaces between poetry and other disciplines. In growth, interfaces are everything. A potato plant can sprout from peelings, but never from that starchy bulk we tend to focus on as food. Interfaces hold the key - or at least the imprint of the key - to grappling with the tragedies and opportunities of what is (for those in the privileged North) a fast, interwoven, techno-social world.
Science and Poetry? Well, poetry certainly has a lot to do with anatomy. It's easy to forget how its sound is launched from flaps of skin in the throat, that it is a sustained, modulated vibration of a gaseous fluid. I love the idea that the most intense experiences of poetry can be pheromonal, filling a room with the sweet, subliminal scent of aroused communication. When that happens, audiences help to make the poem. Their response can become an organic hologram within you, storing in your bones (and in your ear) the shape and smack of genuine human interaction. A poem is shared breath. After all, it both shapes - and is shaped by - breath. If inspiration is the breath in, then the poem is the breath out. It is somatic as well as intellectual. It has to be tested out on your personalised drum-kit of inner ear.
Talking of inspiration, I'm an idiot Benjamin Franklin forever launching my kite into the cloudless blue (and, too often, holding my breath as I do so!). Those internal processes of composition often seem inexorably meteorological - a kind of spontaneous condensation in the dark interstices of consciousness. The poem: a thick vapour that creeps under the door of your brightly lit life, demanding that you investigate and experiment. The rest is trying to get the blasted door to open. But, as when I was a physicist, I thrive on unexpected results. During one of my classroom visits, for example, after asking a class to invent a futuristic voice, a disgruntled student raised a heavily-ringed hand and (with a face brimming with Anglo-Saxon feeling) encouraged me (shall we say, euphemistically) to "do" my own exercise. I did; and the resulting poem (entitled Gene) helped me towards a new voice. Angels often come disguised as devils.
Since my first book, Shrapnel and Sheets, I've been trying to gauge, and span, the supposed arts-science duality. I've been keen to write poems that move the listener, yet address the problems and possibilities of technology; that encapsulate individual corpuscles of scientific perception whilst sending "waves" through an audience with their performance and resonance. I believe science and poetry can successfully co-exist in this way, but not through the injection of science into poems in an arbitrary manner, or as a kind of technological name-dropping. The science has to be fully absorbed into the creative writing process, so that the poems achieve a negotiated co-habitation, an organic balance. That was my intention with the book-length poem/ sequence on Chernobyl, Heavy Water(Enitharmon, 2004) and my current (July 2007) collection with Enitharmon, Flowers of Sulphur.
I try, however, not to obsess over technology or our eco-social sins. History (say) can be just as important. Indeed, the media (and our entertainment culture more generally) seem so focused on topicality and the present, I'm concerned for the past's future... But, yes, I do keep an on-going eye on science. Science inspires me because I experienced it at the coal face; but also because I've found that the rigour and precision of the scientist is not foreign to the poet, just as the faith-leaps of poetry are far from excluded from the drawing-boards of science. Poetry and science do not resemble tribal arch-rivals, but kissing cousins. They both ask deeper questions of what is superficially observed and, by the same token, both adopt a hypothetical and provisional stance towards what they try to understand. They each demand that we pay full, plural attention. And, as someone versed in quantum physics, I'm fascinated by metaphor, the way everything (as in the quantum world) can become everything else. That's the engine-room of my writing, one of its major subjects.
Finally, science provides not just interesting things to write about; it also feeds one of my key creative concerns: to discover novel perspectives, new ways of perceiving and processing "ordinary" experience. As that prolific writer, Anonymous, has said: a physicist is the atom's way of thinking about atoms. Perhaps, then, a poet is the poem's way of thinking about words.
For more on Mario's science-poetry and "Spatial Form", see http://www.mariopetrucci.com/.