When Science Meets Art

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Literary Arts

Poetry, Literature


Janet MacFadyen

Janet MacFadyen

American poet & bachelor in geology
Bachelor's in geology from Brown University
M.F.A. from the University of Massachusetts/Amherst
  Read more in EPS/SSA Blog
Professional Biography ....

Janet MacFadyen is the author of five works of poetry, with a sixth book, State of Grass, forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2023.

Her most recent book, Adrift in the House of Rocks, is an environmental collaboration with the photographer Stephen Schmidt (New Feral Press 2019) focused on the landscape, geology, and political strife of southern Utah. The previous book, Waiting to Be Born (Dos Madres Press), drew both from a dune shack residency in the U.S. Cape Cod National Seashore coinciding with a powerful October nor'easter, and from travels to national parks across the United States.

Her work has appeared widely, from Scientific American, CALYX, Crannog, and Poetry Magazine, to online environmental journals such as Terrain: a Journal of the Natural and Built Environments and The Tiny Seed. Her poetry has been nominated for the Forward Prize and two Pushcarts; and anthologized in Honoring Nature: An Anthology of Authors and Artists Festival Writers.

She was a recipient of a 7-month fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA; and has held residencies at Cill Rialaig in County Kerry, Ireland, two dune shacks in Provincetown, MA, and Wellspring House in Ashfield, MA. She is currently the managing editor of the collaborative poetry publisher, Slate Roof Press.

Ms. MacFadyen's non-fiction writing has appeared in Natural New England; and her research has contributed to pieces in the Atlantic Monthly, Forbes FYI, AARP Magazine, and Lost Discoveries, a history of the non-Western roots of science published by Simon & Schuster.

"If we humans are moved to love, then we are often moved to protect and save..."

"Since I have anthropomorphized nature in my poetry, let me take on the subject. I could say: that when nature is cast in human form, it makes the scientific processes undergirding it easier for most people to understand, more comforting for them to absorb, and so easier to love. And if we humans are moved to love, then we are often moved to protect and save — which would be a good thing in this time of environmental degradation.

But that implies a certain analytical process when first drafting poetry, and the analytical brain inevitably shackles any deep insights trying to arise against our previously held expectations. The truth is, I have always found it easier to talk to other creatures than to talk to people. Partly, I do this in the way older people and children talk to themselves, not really expecting an answer, and partly because I don't see much difference, really, between myself and the ants, or the white pines behind my house, or the onions in my cupboard. Nature is a good listener, whereas other people often are not. I try to return the favor and be a good observer of nature myself. It is possible, I find, to open up my pores to try to experience the fundamental natures of other inhabitants of our world."

by Janet MacFadyen


Janet MacFadyen – an American poet and scientific researcher – is one of the many who feels the need to change our attitude towards, and concepts of, natural phenomena. She gracefully expresses that feeling. MacFadyen transforms scientific perception into vivid poetic imagery that invokes deep insights into Nature and our connection with it. Her poems transmogrify hills and rocky formations into cities, stones and crystals into ancient teachers, rivers and brooks into the circulatory system of our living and breathing Mother Earth.

Below you can enjoy and reflect upon Janet MacFadyen's statement and meditative poetry!

  • photo © by Stephen Schmidt

    Cascade

    Like tangled hair over stone, roots
        hold trees against a stream. The current loosens
    its gorgeous fall, braids and unbraids
        against the rock while roots draw water
    to the crown, a fountain and a glory.
        The falls pull water downward
    from their spring, the spring
        rises and overflows; leaves
    push outwards; the weeping willow
        greens. Cascades swell with rain and spill
    their shimmering ringlets down, fall
        and fall all summer long until trees
    let down their hair and leaves
        are loosed, lips call sap
    back to the earth and all
        stands dark and silent.
    Frost grows, the current
        swirls and slows under lacey ice
    but does not stop. A tree's heart
        does not freeze in its quiet
    sleep. So close and so
        far under. I lay
    my hand on root
        and rock. I dip
    my hand in water
        and the sap
    wells up.

    First published in SWS Social Sciences and Art & Humanities Blog (SSA Blog), February 2021
    photo © by Stephen Schmidt
      Read more in EPS/SSA Blog

  • Fisher Towers, Moab; photo © by Stephen Schmidt

    The Earth, at Work

    At the feet of towering cliffs, facades
    soar like city blocks, civilization
    self-created, unthought —

    The ancient seas worked hard and long
    to lay the sediments down — each breaking wave

    left riffles in the sand,
    inch by inch, eon by eon. Through sheer

    repetition the cliffs are wrought—
    warp and weft, across and down—

    interlacing fingers of water and wind
    weave a fabric
    from the dust of rock.


    First published in SWS Social Sciences and Art & Humanities Blog (SSA Blog), February 2021
    Fisher Towers, Moab; photo © by Stephen Schmidt
      Read more in EPS/SSA Blog

  • photo © by Stephen Schmidt

    In Defense of Stones

    For instance, take that stone
    by the guard rail over there. One day
    it will break down into sand, won't it?
    And be mixed with leaves and leached

    by water, oh slowly, but for sure?
    Then won't a root suck it up with its long
    flexible straw, powered by the secret
    green lips of the plant? Won't it suck

    with all the fierce joy it can muster?
    And if the plant were a bean, perhaps I eat
    each pod, feeling the rightness of it,
    and one day this whole stone will be inside me,

    and I speak from prior knowledge
    of generations of stones lodged in my gall
    bladder, the knowledge that I too will be ground
    in the dark gizzard of the world.

    I chew this notion over and over, how it happens
    that I could end up food for a rock
    or the rock itself: rigid and grey
    and alone. But maybe stones

    are just another way of living—
    you could say a different style—
    and if only we knew how to listen
    to such enormous or tiny sounds,

    we could hear their low, age-long conversations
    at cliff bottoms or along riverbeds;
    or feel how they embrace life so fiercely
    they batter themselves to bits.

    So I wonder, who is the stubborn one here—
    the boulder in the field refusing to budge
    for anyone, or me in the road,
    arguing with myself, refusing to live?

    Оriginally published in Sanctuary, The Journal of the Massachusetts Audubon Society
    photo © by Stephen Schmidt
      Read more in EPS/SSA Blog

  • photo © by Stephen Schmidt

    The Boulders of Lyell Canyon

    I name them Upright, Lengthwise, Split
    Down the Middle: these granites strewn
    like milky stars. You could orient by them, find
    your way through creek, meadow, and wood.
    This one is here, and that one is there, its neighbor
    next to both, old friends grinding down shards
    of philosophy. It could take a million years
    to see the argument to conclusion, points
    split finer and finer, rubbed to a sheen
    into pebbles, then to sand in an hourglass.
    They record the course of floods, huddle
    together beneath parent slopes where they
    were wrenched and scraped by glaciers, shaped
    and molded by teachers of ice, which explains
    their patience and hardness, having been milled
    so interminably slowly to an exacting rule.
    Now they languish, sun seeping into feldspars
    and micas, into the quartzes until they quiver
    with pure excitation—in heat and cold, wind
    and stillness, through minutes and millennia,
    and still radiate impassiveness.

    Originally published in Scientific American, May 2020; and on their online site under the title "Teachers of Ice"
      Read more in EPS/SSA Blog

  • photo © by Stephen Schmidt

    The poet's Imaginarium

    When was your first encounter with poetry? Can you remember what exactly prompted you to become a poet?


         Being a poet is not a vocation; it's a dedication of one's life to the beauty, music, and intuitive depths of language. As such, my embrace of it has been a long, still-ongoing process, not something initiated by a single incident. My family loved literature; and I was always hardwired for language and for music – I played flute seriously from childhood through college – and that combination pointed toward poetry. In college, I decided the arts and humanities were a waste of time (what kind of job would I get?), so I majored in geology. Being math-deficient, I struggled in the sciences, as much as I enjoyed them. I took that difficulty to mean that geology was clearly a serious career choice, rather than a flight of fancy. My mother, when I told her of my intent to major in geology, responded, "Now you are talking like an adult."
          So the arc of my adult life has been a slow acceptance and then embrace of poetry, which had been my calling all along. Poetry was always waiting in the wings when I was a young adult; I took workshops for years, had some early successes in publishing, which continued as I got older. Finally, in my late 30s, I went back to school to get an MFA in poetry, and haven't looked back since.


    Where does the inspiration for your poems come from? – from your dreams, thoughts and reflections on nature and reality, or maybe from the active experience of involving yourself, of perceiving them in front of you?

          My earlier writing often came from images from dreams or encounters that would not go away, signaling a poem lay there. But today, most poetry comes from the journals I keep while hiking or walking, where I record what I see in as much detail as I can muster. I also write my subjective responses, along with whatever I know about the particular landscape and ideas that I am thinking about anyway. And if the writing turns to whimsy while I am cataloguing a twinning feldspar crystal or a manzanita leaf, that's fine with me.
          Unfamiliar landscapes I encounter while travelling especially inspire me, because as an outsider I am completely awe-struck – in the full deep sense of that phrase -- by the singularity and beauty of new places, new rock formations, new plants, new insects. It is too bad to have to travel to encounter that depth of awe, but it can be hard to appreciate whatever natural beauty exists in our home territories, what we see day in and day out, deluged as we are with everyday pressures. One of the tasks I have set for myself is to get more in touch with the enchantment of my home, starting with the woods behind my house.


    Could you tell us which are the writers, artists or scientists that influenced you the most?

         That is a continually expanding list, and the people who influenced me earlier perhaps no longer influence me so much now. But here's a partial list:
          For artists, I am always inspired by ...

    CONTINUE READING...


    First published in SWS Social Sciences and Art & Humanities Blog (SSA Blog), March 2021
    photo © by Stephen Schmidt
      Read more in EPS/SSA Blog

Prof. Noam Chomsky

#Literary Arts #Writer #Scientist #Linguistics #Philosopher

Janet MacFadyen

#Literary Arts #Writer #Geology

Prof. Xavier Cortada

#Literary Arts #Writer #Climate Change
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