Finding Poetry in Science

The contest between artistic and scientific pursuits is not well grounded, nor is it necessary. Rather, the two subjects can be connected and celebrated together. In conversation at the 2016 Words Festival in London Ontario, Madhur Anand, Shane Neilson, and Joel Faflak discussed at great length the intersection between different fields of study, the impact of science on the arts, and the role of universities in the collaboration between different fields of study.

Anand is a Canadian poet and professor of ecology and environmental sciences at the University of Guelph, Neilson is a Canadian Physician, author, and poet, and Faflak is an English Literature Professor at Western University. Prior to their discussion, both Anand and Neilson read from their own personal works of poetry. It was this presentation of poetry that sparked the audience’s imagination and drew their attention to a reality of arts and sciences working together.

Madhur Anand, Shane Neilson and Joel Faflak in conversation at Words 2016.

Neilson read from his collection of poetry entitled, On Shaving Off His Face, which captures his experience as a father, physician, and poet. His poetry draws the listener into the journeys of all three of these experiences as told through the stories written (or not written) on our faces. The most touching point of his reading resulted from a poem about his relationship with his son who has a serious diagnosis of epilepsy. Throughout all of these poems, Neilson often engages in conversation with figures in medical history. This connection between science and poetry also appeared throughout Anand’s readings.

Anand chose to read from several poems that featured an excited element of connection that she identified as found poetry. This element involves the inclusion of actual material from Anand’s scientific work. The selections were from Anand’s debut collection A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes and a few early pieces that Anand described as flowing from the important relationship she shares with her husband. The connection between poetry and science was explicit and yet extremely fluid and fitting for the conveyed themes and images.

Both of these writers celebrated an intersection between poetry and science; a celebration that Faflak was eager to explore and apply to other areas of life, specifically the educational methods at the university and college level. He asked the question; how might educational institutions encourage the collaboration between arts and science faculties? In response, both Neilson and Anand reflected on their own personal experience with their individual projects. Moving from scientific fields into artistic projects was intuitive and enlightening for both writers, not as out of the box as people expected.

The message that Neilson and Anand offer through their poetry is important. Poetry is a language of the person that not only expresses reality but also engages in an imaginative process that can be beneficial to well-being. This process is communicative and in some cases even healing. Moreover, the poetic projects of both of these science professionals encourages more celebration and less competitive distinction between the arts and sciences.

Discover Madhur Anand’s work available from McClelland & Stewart Publishers

Discover Shane Neilson’s work from The Porcupine’s Quill


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