Let’s talk Darwin

As a writer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, I want people to read my work, and I want my work to provoke thought. I don’t need my readers to agree with me (though that’s fun,) or love my work, (though that’s quite fun,) I want them to think. (See Emerson, Self-Reliance)

My literary interests, currently, run in a few veins, but I’ll start with the big one. I have a poetry manuscript (formerly titled “Shadows in Chalk,”) entitled “Darwin’s Microscope.”

I’m very excited about this, especially for its timeliness. The year is now 2008, and 2009 is the year of Darwin: it is the 200th anniversary of the birth of good ‘ol Charles, well worth celebrating, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin of Species. February 14th, his actual birthday, will be especially big (Charles was born that day in 1809.) And of course, the UK is probably having the biggest celebrations, and I live in London.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

I consider myself a “Darwinian Poet;” if there is not yet a definition for it, maybe I can clarify. After the British Society for Literature and Science conference last fall, I realize there are myriad ways to define “Darwinian,” so I’d better clarify where I’m coming from. I spent my final year of undergrad (formerly Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, if you are a student, take Evolution asap,) studying The Voyage of the Beagle and On The Origin of Species, both, of course, by Charles Darwin. I read E.O. Wilson, and I read and then met Richard Dawkins. I read Bruce Chatwin, Dorothy Sutton, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Davids Attenborough and Quammen, Loren Eiseley…the list goes on. (We mustn’t forget Thoreau & Emerson, who appreciated Nature but, I’d argue, as a means to their own ends.)

I spent that year immersed in the gorgeous study of biology, followed by a summer course in Maritime History, where I brought in Melville, whaling, and began to see all the threads interconnecting these above interests. (Herman Melville lived from 1819-1891 and Charles Darwin lived from 1809-1882) I became a grad student at the Munson Institute for Maritime Studies at the Mystic Seaport in Mystic, CT.

Mystic Seaport

Mystic Seaport

The resulting research paper from the Grad program as well as my Honours project (the poetry manuscript) were accepted to the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment 2008 conference in Edinburgh, so I’ll be presenting my paper on Moby-Dick, “Literary Tryworks,” as well as reading some poems from “Shadows in Chalk,” at the conference this July.

So what makes me a “Darwinian Poet?” Perhaps it is that I find the study of biology answers “the big” questions for me. Perhaps it is that I find beauty in the science of Darwin’s writing, and science in its beauty. Perhaps it is that I am a happy atheist, and find Richard Dawkins hilarious and basically correct, though over the top at times (I say this as one who appreciates being over the top at times).

Perhaps it is the beauty in deducing a single moment in time by taking a biological fact and capturing it in a poem. I say “capturing” because I do not make it a poem; it already is one. One just needs a certain lens of a microscope to see it that way. Above all, I am a Darwinian Poet because the more I study science and poetry, the less of a divide I see between the two. Check out my book (in 2009) and see if you agree.

2 thoughts on “Let’s talk Darwin

  1. How do you feel about Gary Snyder?

    Do you think of him as a Darwinian poet?

    I think Darwin could have written verse. Many sentences in his own writing suggest to me he read poetry.

  2. Gary Snyder very much strikes me as a mystic, and a nature-poet. He is certainly in tune with the natural world and I would hope he is familiar with studying Darwin. Some people might vehemently disagree with relating Snyder to Darwin based on spiritual ‘vibes,’ (personally I see Snyder as quite spiritual and Darwin as not,) however they both are trying to translate their wonder at the natural world.

    I agree that much of Darwin’s own writing, including the over-quoted “entangled bank” bit, is quite poetic. It amuses me that Darwin personally didn’t much like creative writing other than romance novels, which his wife read aloud to him later in life.

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