Poetry and science don’t often go together, but a Brock University professor has made a name for himself by merging the two.
When CBC announced the 2016 Poetry Prize shortlist last month, Prof. Adam Dickinson’s poem The Metabolites made the cut.
The Metabolites is part of a book he is working on that explores the body and its relationship to its environment on a microbial level. Dickinson’s current work focuses on chemical pollution and its effects on the human body.
“Our bodies are ultimately much more permeable than we think,” he says. “Rather than just look at the adverse effects of toxic chemicals, I also wanted to consider the necessary ways the body is written over by its environment in the form of microbes as a means of maintaining general health.”
He describes the book he is working on as “a chemical/microbial autobiography that will emerge … from a toxicological and symbiotic map of my own body.”
Dickinson uses himself as a guinea pig, conducting a series of blood and urine tests and skin swabs of various body parts to test for pollutants.
The Metabolites comes from test results for chemicals used in synthetic fragrances.
Dickinson’s poetry explores areas of language that usually don’t belong to poetry, particularly the language of science. His previous book, Polymers (2013) explores the intersection between poetry and science by comparing our world and lifestyle with the structures and behaviours of polymers. His work brings together the materials and approaches of science and literature to reexamine how we view each other and the world.
He is attracted to poetry as a way of reimaging what constitutes writing.
“Poetry can shift frames of signification and make things matter that don’t otherwise matter. It is a way of looking at the world according to reimagined parameters,” he said.
Dickinson, who teaches poetics and creative writing, has had work published in literary journals and anthologies in Canada and internationally. All three of his books of poetry have been nominated for awards. The Polymers was a finalist for both the 2013 Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the 2014 Trillium Book Award for Poetry. Kingdom, Phylum (2006) and Cartography and Walking (2002) were also both nominated for national and provincial writing awards.
The 2016 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist of five poets was chosen by a jury of Roo Borson, George Elliott Clarke, and Erin Moure from more than 1,300 entries. Michael Fraser won the 2016 grand prize for his poem “African Canadian in Union Blue.” The winner received $6,000 from Canada Council of the Arts, publication in Air Canada’s enRoute magazine, and a 10-day writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Remaining finalists receive $1,000 each.
You can read The Metabolites on the CBC Poetry Prize website.
For a fascinating mini-documentary on Dickinson and his work, see this story on FieldWorkTV.