Al Filreis was joined for this episode of PoemTalk by Evelyn Reilly, Joshua Schuster, and James Sherry to discuss the title poem of Mei-mei Berssenbrugge’s book Hello, the Roses (New Directions, 2013; 58–62). Berssenbrugge’s PennSound page includes two recordings of her performance of this poem. The recording we played before our discussion is from a reading given at Dominique Levy Gallery in New York in March of 2016.
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.