The Petri-dish of Poetry: Growing a Single Culture

By Noel Williams and Felicity Skelton.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

If C. P. Snow’s 1959 account of the “two cultures” holds true, why do many contemporary
poets turn to science for their material? Major poets such as Mario Petrucci, Maurice Riordan and
Lavinia Greenlaw make science the core of their work. The language of science and the language of
poetry have many similarities: they aim to express complexities at the edge of human experience, to
report new discoveries, to pin down new ways of seeing things, to be as exact as language allows.
They may only be readily understood through metaphor. They may be hard to read. For these reasons,
they may be popularly misunderstood. This paper compares the discourses (the language-in-use) of
science and of contemporary poets who use science as material. It suggests that the connection between
the two is rather more than a historical oddity, that they may, in fact, share quite fundamental concerns,
and possibly learn from each other in expressing their truths. Perhaps there’s a certain softening of
the edges of science: the acceptance by some, for example, of limits to the scientific method, the need
for a human take on scientific enterprise where pure research hits the wall of social incomprehension,
perhaps even the need for science to find more convincing metaphors for its truths in order to get them
across. Poetry may be a better medium for getting an audience to engage with the real subtleties of
science than the more prosaic attempts of “popular science” writing, and may therefore offer one
vessel for growing a healthy culture.

Keywords: Poetry, Language, Science Communication, Creativity, Humanism, Discourse of Science

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.43-54. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.671MB).

Prof. Noel Williams

Professor, Senior Academic, Communication, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, S Yorks, UK

Professor of Communications, a linguist and e-learning researcher who is also a poet, with a strong interest in the communications of technical and scientific matters as well as creativity in human communications.

Felicity Skelton

Sheffield Hallam University, S Yorks, UK

Felicity Skelton is a lecturer in English at Sheffield Hallam University. Her publications include a short story collection “Eating A Sandwich”. She also had a previous career as a theater director.