Science and Poetry: Atomic poems

Last week I participated in a fascinating online event to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day 2020. It was organised by Junction Arts and introduced us to the poetry and scientific investigations of 17th century writer Margaret Cavendish, the first female Natural Philosopher, one of the first women to publish under her own name and the first female visitor invited to the Royal Society. Poet Hannah Cooper-Smithson asked to think in lots of different ways about the existence and movement of atoms – a subject explored by Cavendish in her book Poems and Fancies published in 1653. Creative technologist Claire Garside showed us how to use the Fibonacci poetry generator on a programme called Trinket Python and then left us to have fun experimenting with writing our own atom poems.

The Fibonacci sequence is a particular sequence of numbers which occur naturally in the world in, for example, in the number of petals in a flower (3 petals for irises, 13 for daisies). Each number is the sum of the previous two numbers so the sequence begins: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 and so on. (Interestingly, the ratio between a given number and the previous number in the sequence links to what is often called ‘the golden ratio’ or Phi.) In composing our atomic poems we were given free rein to write as many lines as we liked within the sequence – for example, the final line of my poem contains 21 words. We were encouraged to submit poems for potential transformation into sculptures by Cora Glasser, to be located in Bolsover Castle, where Margaret Cavendish lived.

Here’s my poem:

Atomic dancers

Bright

movers,

sparking steel

ball-bearings ricochet across

irregular pockets of velvet space

and skin, blood and bone, air and fire,

stone and water. Intuitive salsa partners synced in unending live sequences, test out

question, ponder, probe outer limits, spin their polished spheres around what is known, what is hoped, what is yet to know.

If you want to have a go at writing a Fibonacci poem try out the Atomic Poetry generator and resources at http://thisgirl.codes/resources/ and also check out how this poetry programme was originally developed by Paul Curzon at Queen Mary University, London.

After working on my poem I discovered another variant: Fib poetry. According to Wikipedia and author Greg Pincus, Fib Poetry is an experimental form, akin to the haiku, which has a syllabic structure. It uses the sequence 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 to determine the number of syllables, rather than words, appearing on each line of a six line poem. A Fib has 20 syllables in total. Like all poetic structures though, such rules are there for making, trying out and breaking…

Thanks to Junction Arts for such a thought-provoking workshop.

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