Poets for Science
April 20, 2017
On Earth Day, April 22, the March for Science will take place on Washington, DC’s National Mall, and along with it, there will be a teach-in featuring poet Jane Hirshfield and the Wick Poetry Center under the banner of #PoetsforScience. The Wick Poetry Center staff will be facilitating workshops in poetry writing for marchers and visitors, and the exhibit will feature twenty seven-foot banners with science-themed poems curated by Jane Hirshfield.
AWP talked to Jane Hirshfield and David Hassler, Director of the Wick Poetry Center, about the effort.
Hirshfield said that the idea for a poetry presence at the March sparked the same day the March itself was conceived, on January 25. She too was responding to the White House website removing all information about climate change and government agencies like the EPA and the Park Service being told they would have different priorities now in the new administration. “I’ve been writing and thinking about climate change for many years now, the first Earth Day happened when I was a high school senior. I felt that news [of the priority shift] as personally as the more recent proposal to eliminate the NEA and NEH. I wrote a poem. A couple days later, I sent it to a few of my scientist friends, who sent it to other friends, and word began coming back from federal scientists in Montana, Kansas, Wyoming, Washington, DC. … When I heard that the March was happening, after a while the thought simply arrived, ‘Poetry should be there.’ The thought wouldn’t leave.” She contacted the March coordinators and started planning the event with them, an event “that has exceeded [her] first imaginings by far.”
David Hassler told us that Jane Hirshfield reached out to him in early March after receiving a Wick e-newsletters announcing their Traveling Stanzas: Writing Across Borders. “Jane introduced her idea to create a ‘Poets for Science’ presence at the March for Science and said that she had curated a collection of poems about science. She asked me if the Wick Poetry Center could help her in any way to realize her idea. I was thrilled to have an opportunity for our Traveling Stanzas project to collaborate with Jane who is such an eloquent liaison between the arts and science.”
Hassler offered to have a local design firm, Each + Every, design seven-foot freestanding banners for her collection of Poets for Science poems and to create smaller march banners from those poems also. Wick has created a Poets for Science website that will be fully uploaded by Friday. Visitors will be able to view the entire Poets for Science collection and download march posters for sister marches around the world.
The Wick-sponsored tent at the March will have pop-up writing workshops throughout the day facilitated by DC-area poets. Participants will make “found” poems using 6?x9? printed postcards holding seminal science-based texts. “Using a technique that the Wick Poetry Center calls ‘emerge,’” said Hassler, “participants will black out words and phrases, letting the remaining words and phrases remake themselves into a poem. Participants will then have the opportunity to share their Emerge poem on the Poets For Science website and on social media using #PoetsForScience, where we will aggregate all the #PoetsForScience posts.”
We asked Hirshfield what she hoped a marcher whose background was in science and not the humanities would take away with them from the Poets for Science event.
“I hope that they will feel and see how the facts of science live in our actual lives. … The wonder that is this world, from molecule to galaxies. I love that the poem-banners are going to be human sized, because that seems to me a metaphor for what #PoetsforScience is trying to offer: the human-sized dimensions of science as it lives within our fully human lives.”
Hassler added, “Now I think that at a time when not only the NEA, but also the EPA and NIH are under attack, it feels more urgent to create spaces for creativity and dialogue between different disciplines. In his ‘Democratic Vistas’ Whitman urged American poets to be informed of and inspired by science. Both science and literature require similar forms of imagination and leaps of thought.”
The March for Science will be located on the north side of the Washington Monument grounds (Constitution Avenue NW between 15th and 17th streets), and the grounds will open at 8:00 a.m. The teach-in begins at 9:00 a.m., and the main rally program starts at 10:00 a.m. Jane Hirshfield will read the poem she wrote on January 25, “On the Fifth Day,” as one of the main rally speakers at the March. She will also be at a pre-March poetry and science event at Dupont Underground, in Washington, DC, on April 20.