Arthur J. Stewart has written a fine collection of poems that weave imagery of nature and scientific thought and discovery into what it is to be a human thinking. The Ghost in the Word is Stewart’s 4th book of poetry inspired from his life as a scientist, educator, and naturalist. Like Kimiko Hahn, who derives some of her poetry from the Science Section of the NY Times (see her Toxic Flora), Stewart gets his ideas directly from scientific journals and his own life’s work, currently program manager for Science Education Programs at Oak Ridge Associated Universities after 17 years with Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He was recently inducted to the East Tennessee Literary Hall of Fame for poetry.
Stewart uses poetry to reveal science and then deftly flips it around to create emergent properties of thought embodied in poetry. The results are precise poems with a scientific core spattered with whimsy and deep introspection. In “A Good Year” he writes,
“..later that night a new study of
coherent patterns in fluid flows
showing air-borne pollutants aggregate
In urban habitats in response to wind and this study
gives truth to the possibility of large-scale outdoor
feng shui, you can look it up…”
The Ghost in the Word uses the ambiguous character of poems to mirror the uncertainty of science and scientific pursuits. One poem even takes on the appearance of a skewed distribution. Another thread is more personal, the ambiguity of a prostate cancer diagnosis. What is not ambiguous is that awareness of mortality makes life all the more intense and so not surprisingly, this is Stewart’s best book of poetry. In the end the worrisome elements recede to emphasize life, wonder and discovery “…within a scientific website this morning I found two thousand three hundred and ninety one hits for mystery.” Some of my favorite poems are: “Evidence,” “Poetry at the Roots of Science,” “New Silk, Old Ways,” and as I write this review, “Saturday Morning Review Job,” that reminded me to check that I “…start(ed) by putting the most important point first.” Scientist and nonscientist alike with enjoy this book, but it is a particular delight for environmental scientists.
2013. 72 pp. Softcover. ISBN: 978-0-9847836-9-4. $15. Celtic Cat Publishing, Knoxville, TN
Susan M. Cormier
IEAM Editorial Board
Published in Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, March 2014, 10(2):320.