Why Does Poetry Matter? by Charlotte Pence

My poetry often siphons science for inspiration. Scientific American, Nature, “Best of” series all provide me with gifts like “humans taste brown” and “the measures we use depend on what we are measuring.”For the past five years, I’ve taken a special interest in human descent with modification, which has turned into an interest regarding literary evolutionists and what they have to say about why we spend so much of our time in the land of narrative. According to Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative, if you add up all of our time watching TV, listening to song, day dreaming, night dreaming, not to mention actually reading, approximately 2/3 of our lives are spent in fantasy land. In an era of ever-increasing productivity, why has narrative remained such a central part of our lives? Neuroscientists and biologists tell us point blank: the mind is hard-wired for story. For example, if your boss gives you a wobbly smile in passing, you will have a hard time not wondering why the smile didn’t seem genuine. Is she mad at you? Is it maybe not at all about you? Is it that she knows you will soon have some work dumped on you? Whatever the case, the mind takes the fragments and attempts to create a narrative.

open - Artist jperkins fish

As an avid reader, I like that narrative is so important to our lives. But as a poet, I have a particular set of concerns regarding this sibling that everyone loves more than poetry. If our brains are hard-wired for story, what is the draw of poetry when narrative is sliced away? Is the lack of narrative in lyrical poetry part of what contributes to poetry’s small readership? Continue reading

Nicolas Poynter on the inspiration of “La Bomba Grande” from issue 297.3

My story, “La Bomba Grande,” started with this seed: that a young, Mexican girl, without any formal scientific training, was going to do this amazing thing in science, unlock this great riddle, and then, to make things even more spectacular, she was going to tie science and God together in a way that would be shocking. Basically, this one girl was going to change the whole world for the better. Normally, I cannot identify where I got a particular idea for a particular story. But in this instance, I know exactly when and why and how. The inspiration was a very creative, young girl who did not like physical science one bit and happened to be in my physical science class the first year I taught high school.


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