Amy Catanzano

quantum poetics

The infinity in language

Plant (1960) by Remedios Varo
Plant (1960) by Remedios Varo

“Poiesis, in the deepest sense, is cosmology.” —Adam Cornford

In addition to poets using science as a source for metaphor, poets claiming science as a type of poetry, and poets conducting science as poetry, there are poets who are making science a determining element of their worldview. One such poet, Adam Cornford, whose poetry and critical works intersect with evolutionary biology, physics, cosmology, and more, and who Andrew Joron has called a “cosmo-surrealist,” has said in our recent conversations that his aim is to discursively imagine science as a way to “(re)imagine that which we know, especially that which we know indirectly, that is, by way of instrumentalities and mathematical schemata.”

'Black W/Holes: A History of Brief Time,' part 2 of 2

Cover of FUSE Magazine, 1998, courtesy of fusemagazine.org
Cover of FUSE Magazine, 1998, courtesy of fusemagazine.org

What follows is Part 2 of 2 of M. NourbeSe Philip’s essay, “Black W/Holes: A History Of Brief Time,” which combines definitions from Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time with an urgent discussion about race relations in Canada and beyond in the late 1990s. This essay was originally published in Toronto’s FUSE Magazine in 1998. After sending Philip my commentary, “Physics of the Impossible,” which speculatively discusses her book-length poem Zong! (Wesleyan University Press, 2008) in relation to Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity, she sent me this essay. Since it only appears in the back issue of FUSE, I am presenting it here with her permission.

'Black W/Holes: A History of Brief Time,' part 1 of 2

Cover of FUSE Magazine, 1998, courtesy of fusemagazine.org
Cover of FUSE Magazine, 1998, courtesy of fusemagazine.org

What follows is Part 1 of 2 of M. NourbeSe Philip’s essay, “Black W/Holes: A History Of Brief Time,” which combines definitions from Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time with an urgent discussion about race relations in Canada and beyond in the late 1990s. This essay was originally published in Toronto’s FUSE Magazine in 1998. After sending Philip my commentary, “Physics of the Impossible,” which speculatively discusses her book-length poem Zong! (Wesleyan University Press, 2008) in relation to Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity, she sent me this essay. Since it only appears in the back issue of FUSE, I am presenting it here with her permission.

'Fractal Poetics': A rose is a leaf is a rose is a leaf

Iconic image of Romanesco broccoli, courtesy of Wired.
Iconic image of Romanesco broccoli, courtesy of Wired.

Before Benoit Mandelbrot’s fractal mathematics and Gertrude Stein’s roses, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote about a primal plant, “Urpflanze,” which was constructed as a leaf within a leaf within a leaf. I wonder if his Platonic vision for this plant, from which all other plants derived, was an early imagining of fractal mathematics and response to fractal forms in the natural world (coast lines, human migration patterns, Romanesco broccoli). Visual depictions of fractals have no beginnings or endings in time, no inside or outside in space, and self-similarity and repetition occur at all discernible scales. To my eye, these aspects of visual fractals are pleasing. I am also dissatisfied by the undeviating periodicity of fractals.

The periodic table of poetry

Pictures of the Periodic Table of Elements picnic table outside of the Chemistry
Pictures I took of the Periodic Table of Elements picnic table outside of the Chemistry Department at Wake Forest University.

In 1869, the first version of the Periodic Table of Elements was created by Dmitri Mendeleev to illustrate the known chemical elements of the time and predict new ones. Elements are distinguished by having a single type of atom, and as they are discovered by scientists, the table grows. But what of the elements classified and discovered by poets, elements not made of atoms but language? Is poetry a kind of periodic table of language where poets chart, predict, and make elements as alchemists? Perhaps the P.T.O.E. is itself a P.O.E.M. 

One under-acknowledged and yet groundbreaking phenomenon of our time is that, in addition to some poets responding to science as a way to think about language, poetry, and science in more novel ways, some poets are practicing science by making poetry and therefore making something else from practicing both science and poetry at the same time.