Poetry meets science: Talk at AULLA conference

AULLA conference logo
I’m speaking at the Australian Universities Language and Literature Association conference.
Friday 9 December 2016
Victoria University, Footscray, Melbourne
To attend, register for the conference here.

Poetry meets science in modern and contemporary English, Scottish and American discourse


Since 1920 a small but increasing number of scholars have considered the relationship between poetry and science. This paper offers a fresh understanding of that relationship by surveying this scholarship, most of which is by English, Scottish and American writers.

An integrated survey of this field is timely. Perhaps because the field is interdisciplinary and relatively young, the work is poorly indexed and widely scattered.

I argue that during the past hundred years — as in the previous hundred — relations between poetry and science have been characterised by struggle, but that recently they have started to become more complementary, partly because environmental and political concerns have provided a common enemy, but also because the nature of science has changed. I also argue that poets and scientists are not natural enemies and that a complementary relationship is beneficial.

I am a poet whose practice-based doctoral research involves bringing scientific thought, particularly that of modern physics, into poems. An important reason for choosing physics is that, being very abstract, it is especially challenging to use in poems. To appreciate the context of my writing it is necessary to have a historical and contemporary understanding of the relationship between science and poetry.

A dao of poetry? Readings at AAWP conference

On Tuesday 29 November 2016 I will read and discuss some of my recent poems as part of the Australian Association of Writing Programs (AAWP) conference at the University of Canberra. My talk is part of the session happening from 10:30-11:30am in Room 2A12. I’m also participating in the evening reading scheduled for 5-6pm in the outdoor amphitheatre at the University (in the open green area outside building 2).

To attend, register for the conference here.

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A dao of poetry? Nonintentional composition, emergence and intertextuality


My PhD research explores how poetry might harmonise “Western” scientific and “Eastern” spiritual worldviews. The poems invite a liminal consciousness where science’s epistemic authority may meet on equal — not privileged — terms with the more ancient authorities of body and Earth. My primary foci are modern physics, Daoism, and the ecosystemic perspective afforded by complexity theory, in which large-scale patterns emerge unpredictably from simple processes. This emergence, as Hazel Smith remarks, is helpful in theorising how an artwork can take on its own ‘life’, developing in ways its author did not intend. My methodology carries this further, seeking to abandon intention entirely. To achieve this I choose randomly from lists of sources and writing experiments. Influenced by the aleatory processes of conceptual writing, I combine and re-present ideas and text from other works, and take words from what Jean Tobin calls the mind’s “other place” of poetry. A poem may or may not emerge; if one does, I have little idea what it may say or do. I work with eyes and fingers, pointing, highlighting, cutting and shuffling. I select and place text using body and instinct, not the thinking self. This non-intentional composition strives for the Daoist ideal of wei wuwei, action without action — egoless, selfless, apparently-effortless action. Hans-Georg Moeller likens wei wuwei to Csíkszentmihályi’s concept of flow, the focused, effortless mental state also called “the zone”. Aspiring to become daojia shiren, poet of Philosophical Daoism, I practise yun you, wandering like a cloud, searching everywhere for the Way.