Nature poetry, whether well or poorly written—and this issue of Isotope contains some fairly nice examples of the former—is something we’ve all seen before.
Nature poetry, whether well or poorly written—and this issue of Isotope contains some fairly nice examples of the former—is something we’ve all seen before. Science poetry, however, is a rarer commodity. Perhaps my favorite example from these pages is Mark McKain’s “Wheeler on the Beach,” the title of which brings Philip Glass’s opera Einstein on the Beach (1976) to mind. Subtitled, “I. To override this poison more reactivity was needed,” the poem begins: “We would never have had enough / plutonium, had it not been for him.” And then there’s “Asymptotes,” a winner of the 2006 Isotope editors’ prizes for poetry, by Elizabeth Anne Socolow: “I can still see the curve I first traced from the equation, / the points plotted, the line drawn with the finest pencil / and the astonishing news: the curve will approach the axis / forever and never actually touch…” Several other contributions also demonstrate that science is, in the right hands, a fine subject for poetry. Also fascinating are six paintings by Janaki Lennie that portray night skies over urban landscapes. The viewer is positioned as if standing on a porch or looking out a window at varieties of semi-darkness lit from below by cities that enter only the lower margin of the frame. The colors are subtle and the perspectives unusual. The fiction here—only two stories are included—is competently written but not impressive, while the essays constitute both the best and the worst of the entries. There are a couple of the flabby sorts of pieces I feared I might encounter in a journal of science and nature writing—meandering thoughts about rocks or plants—but also a pair of excellent essays by wildlife biologist Caroline Van Hemert, who deftly weaves together an analysis of the effects of pesticides and synthetic estrogens on the wildlife and ecosystems she studies with personal reflections on her own choice to use birth control pills. All in all, Isotope contained more than enough pleasant surprises to make me want to see what the next issue has in store.