Nick Laird writing in the Guardian review’s book column wonders why more poets haven’t engaged with the insights into human behaviour that science gives us.
“In general” he says “modern poets have taken more easily to Freud than Darwin.” But should we hope for a poetry of science and what would it be like? “Will it engage with scientific vocabulary? Or register the possibility of new vistas?”
Laird refers to Miroslav Holub as the great scientist-poet of modern times – but I’m not sure this is right – Holub was certainly a great poet and I’m sure he was a great scientist, but while he draws upon a scientific vocabulary, his use of it is essentially metaphorical.
Take this from his poem ‘Heart transplant’:
After an hour
there’s an abyss in the chest
created by the missing heart
like a model landscape
where humans have grown extinct
Atrium is sewn to atrium
aorta to aorta
three hours of eternity
coming and going
And when the heart begins to beat
and the curves jump
like synthetic sheep
on the green screen,
it’s like a model of a battlefield
in which Life and Spirit
have been fighting
And both have won
The language here is scientific, specifically medical, but it is used to reflect upon love, alienation and the fear of death as conscious experiences not as unconscious processes. Crucially the heart is used metaphorically in its romantic incarnation as the seat of emotion – not literally as a muscle that pumps blood round the body – indeed the latter usage is subordinated to the former….
So I’m still left wondering what a poetry of new scientific vistas would look like. Perhaps it is a category error. Perhaps poetry and science explain us in such different ways that they cannot fully merge. Or maybe there are other examples from Holub or from other poets that come closer?