“Poetry is the news from the frontiers of consciousness”

Lawrence Ferlinghetti[1]


  • “I worry that I am allowing myself to be railroaded into offering prosaic, factual precision when maybe what we need is a feral howl, or the transformative power and real precision of poetry.” – Arundhati Roy quoted in Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac 11/26/2019(?) She won her prizes for fiction, but I don’t think that the science writing I’ve made a career of is really any different…



  • The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven; And, as imagination bodies forth The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a name. (Midsummer Night`s Dream V.i.7)


“Poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import that history, since its statements are of the nature of universals, whereas those of history are singulars.” (Aristotle, Poetics) [connect to generalizations and particulars, ideality and reality]  But it is also, as Leigh Hunt wrote, something that “… in the most comprehensive application of the term, [she takes] to be the flower of any kind of experience, rooted in truth, and issuing forth into beauty. (in Preface to The Story of Rimini (1832 ed.)


W.S. Merwin won his second Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for The Shadow of Sirius. When asked how he knows a poem is done, he answered, “When a poem is really finished, you can’t change anything. You can’t move words around. You can’t say, ‘In other words, you mean.’ No, that’s not it. There are no other words in which you mean it. This is it.” (from The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, September 30, 2017)


POETRY CREATES CONNECTIONS:  “Poetry has the power to reconnect us with ourselves, and has the power to reconnect ourselves with the earth.” (U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón quoted by Ricardo Alberto Maldonado, President and Executive Director, Academy of American Poets)  https://neilgreenberg.com/ao-words/


WHY a SCIENTIST writes in VERSE:Verse forces the mind to focus. If I’m writing in prose, there’s lots of detail and the focus is not nearly so intense. The verse sucks out the essence of what’s going on and conveys that in a manner that is almost visceral. And that influences how the reader thinks about it, and how I think about it.”  (from a book review in which journalist Ron Cowen asked Nobel Physicist Kip Thorne why he writes in verse:  https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-04023-0?  NATURE 19 December 2023)  from  https://neilgreenberg.com/ao-words/)

I keep a diary and can easily agree with Percy Bysshe Shelley that diarizing often begins in times of stress: “Most wretched men/ Are cradled into poetry by wrong:/ They learn in suffering what they teach in song” (“Julian and Maddalo” (1818) l. 544) (recalls a Wounded Healer)




[1] Scott … quoting Ferlinghetti on Saturday Weekend Edition 2/27/2021 (“Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who died Feb. 22 at age 101, wrote a string of verses called “What is Poetry.” We remember him by excerpting some lines.” https://www.npr.org/2021/02/27/972056920/remembering-lawrence-ferlinghetti-through-his-poetry )…would be nice to include in A&O.  (Obit at Poetry Foundation; at NY Times)  (also: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Lawrence_Ferlinghetti )  then https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2019/03/26/at-lawrence-ferlinghettis-hundredth-birthday-party/   (complete line is “Poetry is the news from the growing edge on the far frontiers of consciousness” from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s  Poetry as Insurgent Art.  New Directions, 1975:39 (link)