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Art Stewart, of Lenoir City, Tennessee, is a scientist, science educator and poet. He earned his Ph.D. at Michigan State University in aquatic ecology, and worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Environmental Sciences Division) for 17 years as an ecologist and ecotoxicologist before becoming a science education program manager for Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

In addition to publishing numerous scientific articles, book chapters and technical reports, he has had literary essays published in Big Muddy, the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, and Breathing the Same Air. His poetry has been published in numerous literary magazines and more than a dozen anthologies, and he has authored four highly regarded books of “science-flavored” poems and essays, the most recent of which is The Ghost in the Word.

He is a 2013 inductee of the East Tennessee Writers’ Hall of Fame for poetry, and for his sustained efforts to help reduce the divide between the arts and the sciences he has been described as a “good-hearted provocateur within the culture of science”.

Books by Arthur Stewart

Praise for The Ghost in the Word

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.

Interview with Author

How did you, as a scientist, ever get involved with writing poetry?

There’s actually much more overlap between science and poetry than one might first guess. Science communication depends on extensive use of imagery and metaphors as a way to capture complex ideas and express them in more understandable forms. So, scientists often look to poetry to find ways to make their ideas and findings easier to relay to others. And why do poets get interested in science? Well, what is more beautiful and profound than the natural world, and how things work?

What are your writing habits – do you write your poetry just as “the mood strikes you”?

I try for more discipline in my writing. Every week, I get a new issue of Science magazine, and I read it. There’s always amazing technical information in there that is just begging to be “released” through poetry. I try to write daily and I file everything I write electronically so that I can work and rework the pieces to my satisfaction.

Are your books just about communicating science to the public?

Definitely not! Many of my readers are scientists, and they appreciate the way I express the technical beauty of science in non-technical ways. It lets them see more clearly the underpinnings of their own works from a more fundamental human perspective. And many of my poems touch on science only lightly in communicating deeper human truths.

Are you working on other writing projects now?

Yes, I am. I’ve settled on the theme for my next book, and have completed about half the number of good-quality poems needed to finish it. This book will be a big, sweeping look at mankind’s climb, through hundreds of thousands of years – the rise and fall of civilizations, through so many environmental conditions. Along the way, inevitably, we have gained things and we have lost things, over and over, through thousands of centuries – what a wonderful thing, all this gaining and losing, over and over!

What about your interests in science education – does your poetry fit in there, as well?

Absolutely yes! I’m very keen on cross-disciplinary science and cross-disciplinary science teaching. Students at every level can benefit by having better problem-solving skills, better writing skills, a more instinctive sense of cause-and-effect, and a deeper appreciation of how things work. We can get these ideas across with more hands-on opportunities and diverse connections to the world. Science-flavored poetry can help bridge a number of disciplines through its dependence on interesting language and its use of imagery and metaphors.

My Latest Blogs

30 March 2018

Here’s a nifty opportunity for a student or teacher interested in science and in writing – a 'science-inspired' poetry contest, with entry due-date at the end of April!  The contest is sponsored by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, and offers some nice prizes in several academic-level categories. High school students and university students, right up though graduate students!  Here’s a link to contest guidelines and the entry form:  https://orise.orau.gov/stem/k-12/competitions-for-students.html

Do it today! 


Rate this blog entry:
15 December 2017

Recently, while trying to market my books of “science-flavored” poems, I encountered what I think is an interesting problem.  To help expose this problem and reveal a potential solution, I need to set the stage with some important context.

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26 September 2015
Tips & Hints

I’m doing something here most writers don’t ever want to – expose and wallow in some details of a bad review of one of their books.  The book that got nailed in this case was From Where We Came, my fifth book of “science flavored” poems. But some contextual background is needed first.

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25 September 2015
Tips & Hints

Here, I walk the reader through a 14-part set of activities I did to make The Ghost in the Word, my fourth book of science-flavored poetry. How a book is put together will vary tremendously with the person putting them together, of course – but if you have the desire to publish a book of poems, the steps below might be worth thinking about before you get started! The activities are sequenced in time, with the earliest activity being reported in Part 1.

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