Images: The red admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta; © Kristian Peters, CC BY-SA 3.0. Portrait, “Vanessa”, 1868, by John Everett Millais, collection of Sudley House, Liverpool; public domain.
Last week I shipped off the final revision of my forthcoming book, The Strangest Tribute: How Scientific Names Celebrate Adventurers, Heroes, and Even a Few Scoundrels.* You know how you just finish a piece of writing, and immediately stumble across something you wish you’d put in? Well, the very next day, I happened to be skimming an old set of short book reviews, looking for – well, I’m not going to tell you what, because I’m keeping the idea for my next book under wraps for now. But serendipity struck, as it does; my eye slid by, then arrested on, a one-paragraph review of Maitland Emmet’s book The Scientific Names of the British Lepidoptera: Their History and Meaning (1991).** And from that one paragraph I learned how the butterfly genus Vanessa got its name. It’s a fascinating story – and it explains not just the butterfly Vanessa, but every other Vanessa in the world. Continue reading
Image: Addressing visitors at the official opening of the New Brunswick Literature Garden; photo courtesy of Holly Abbandonato.
As a scientist, I’m really a writer, in the important sense that my research doesn’t matter until it’s published. As a result, I’ve come to celebrate completion of a project not when I collect the last sample, enter the last bit of data, or conduct the last analysis. Instead, I celebrate completion when the paper is published and available for the world to see*.
But my most recent paper isn’t a paper; it’s a garden. And just a couple of weeks ago we had its official opening, and I’m counting that as “my” garden’s publication date. I’ve just published my garden!
About that garden: Continue reading
Some time ago now, I raved about Caribou Run: a book of poetry about – no, not about, but heavily referencing – science*. Ever since I’ve meant to write about another book of poetry that crossed my path around the same time: Madhur Anand’s A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes. The books are totally unalike, except for two things: the way they explore connections between poetry and science (including scientific writing, a pet interest of mine), and the fact that I enjoyed each very much.
Caribou Run is the work of a poet fascinated by science. A New Index is the work of a scientist who is also a poet. The fact that I can’t decide whether this contrast makes a difference seems like good evidence that the boundary between the arts and science is porous from both sides. Continue reading
Illustration by John Tenniel for Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky (Carroll 1871, in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There). Public domain.
I’ve been reading a thesis, getting ready for the defence. I’ve probably been an examiner (internal, external, or opponent) for close to a hundred defences, and I almost always enjoy them. Most students do, too – at least, those who have realized that their defence is more than (and less than) an exam. It’s a chance to share their pride in what they’ve done, and as they do so, they know more about that work than anybody else in the room. The defence is new for each student, of course, but by now they’re a comfortable routine for me.
Last year, though, I found myself an examiner for a thesis that yanked me out of my routine. It was a creative-writing MA thesis in our Department of English. Continue reading
Yes, this is a book review. Of a book of poetry. And nobody made me write it. High-school me is gobsmacked.
Careers take us interesting places, and a couple of years ago mine took me to a creative-writing MA defence in my university’s English department. I was the external examiner for Richard Kelly Kemick, whose thesis was a book of poetry. I’ll tell my fish-out-of-scientific-water story in another post. Today I want to tell you about Kemick’s poems – which you can read, because his book Caribou Run has just been published* (links below). Continue reading