The Poetry of Science by Calum Rodger

The Poetry of Science by Calum Rodger was first published in Gutter 14 as part of our Spoken Word Issue. You can listen to it here:




The Poetry of Science

Good evening – ladies, gentlemen – hello. I am a poet
An anachronistic job, I know – hell, everybody knows it
But please don’t judge me with those relics from a bygone age
I love the work of Brian Cox, and my favourite Facebook page
Is – you guessed it – ‘I fucking love science’. Truly, I’m besotted
As David Cameron is a lizard, as cream is best served clotted
For times have changed. The quill, the pen, have long since been outclassed
To quote the words of Coxy: the universe is vast!
And poetry’s too… human. I think you get the gist
I’ve had it up to here with Shakespeare; I want to write like scientists
So ciao to ambiguity, goodbye poetic licence
I’m going to write a poem as verifiable as science!

So I went to see a physicist submerged in his equations
I asked him ‘would you describe these as poetical, on occasion?’
He told me ‘but of course! The purest beauty is in formulae
Second only to a triple-scoop with sprinkles chocolate sundae.’
I said ‘that’s my favourite too!’ He replied ‘well, great minds…’
I said ‘whoa hold it, I’m a poet. I just came here to find
The most poetic thing in the observable universe
And given you’re a physicist I thought I’d ask you first
Because physics is like physical, things and stuff, is it not?’
He smiled at me wryly and said ‘step into this box.’
And there like a cat I remained and did not remain curled
For a month of chocolate sundaes in unobservable worlds.

Next I met a chemist who was working in her lab
I asked her ‘what’s the most poetic compound that you have?’
She answered ‘this is H2O, the molecule of life!’
I said ‘it looks like water’, she said ‘poet, you’re right.
Two atoms of hydrogen are paired with one of oxygen
You’ll find it nearly everywhere – it’s very cosmopolitan
Without it we cannot survive – it’s truly an elixir
But let me warn you now that it’s rubbish as a mixer.’
‘Permit me drink!’ I cried, as she passed over the beaker
But there in my excitement I dropped it on my sneaker
So I grabbed a similar liquid, drank, and fell upon the floor
Dear God! It was not H2O but H2SO4!

Then I found a marine biologist, sailing on the ocean
I asked her ‘what’s the most poetic animal expression?’
Bottlenoses frolicked and plucked fish from out her pail
As she spoke to me of sonar and the cultural differences of whales
‘What’s most intriguing’ (she went on) ‘for we who live by speech acts
Is that they don’t just get vocabulary – they even have a syntax.’
‘But language is of men!’ I yelled; she said ‘that’s rather sexist
And look – your casual misogyny has put the dolphins off their breakfast.’
I ate my words. She called out ‘Ecco! This poet wants to swim!’
A spritely one leapt out the water and bottlenosed me in
I flailed around, regretful of my speciesist disparity
And could not have looked more foolish, crying ‘oh the humanity!’

Finally I visited an expert in computers
Feeling in no small measure like an unsuccessful suitor
I asked him ‘what’s the most poetic thing machines can do?’
He answered ‘everything you see! This world – look around you
Your phone, your journey home, the tablet that you’re reading from
It’s all computers. Everything is code! Zeroes and ones.’
‘Incredible’ I said, ‘but surely one can’t write
A poem made of only bits that wouldn’t just sound trite?’
‘Well try it’ he said. I said ‘yeah! I’ll be like Neo!
One zero zero one one zero zero
Zero zero zero one one one one
One one zero one zero zero one!’
What fun! And though I’ll still be using English in my journals
It has since gone down very well in avant-garde circles.

I got back from my journey, elated but tired
I had spoken in binary, nearly expired
Inhabited places whose existence is quantum
And got smashed in the face by a smart-arse dolphin
It was truly exhilarating, a cosmos of fun
If a little too vast for this ambiguous one
So I’ll still read New Scientist and watch Coxy’s shows
But I’ll stick to the poems, and leave the science to the pros.
Written for and performed at the opening of Glasgow Science Festival 2015