My wife and I were recently watching a series, “How the Universe Works” on Netflix in which Michio Kaku bemoaned that contemporary poets do not write about the wonders of modern astrophysics, or write poems “to our real mothers, the stars.”
This may be my only opportunity to say this to a theoretical physicist who assembled a particle accelerator in his parent’s garage when he was in high school: Dr. Kaku, you are wrong.
There are many poets like myself who do indeed try to incorporate advances in astronomy into that strange, organic and revelatory experience known as a poem. In fact, I think the poet has the harder task: to the scientist, the universe is a physical system. To the poet it is, and must be, more – and no instruments guide his/her voyage.
No sooner do the scientist and poet recognize in each other a common awe of the cosmos than they must part for different missions, which if both journeyers are humble, studied and open, will arrive by different pathways at the same end: a deeper understanding of the incomprehensible.
By his side, the scientist has a mass of data and hypothesis that wait to be tested. Never before has he or she known more. I was born in an era that knew no farther than the Milky Way. I was a student in the 1970s that saw the revolution of plate tectonics, and a clearer understanding of the very ground beneath our feet.
As he stands on that ground, the contemporary poet is armed only with the unconscious. There is his inner universe, and play field. From there come undeniable truths, and their rightness is identified in the same way that Einstein knew that a new physical law was accurate: it is inherently beautiful.
Perhaps the ultimate search is most poignantly asked by a contemporary poet in a simple line: “Where are we, dear?” The author who wrote it, in his poem, “Quantum,” is Roald Hoffmann, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1981.
Dr. Kaku, poets share your sense of wonder, and we delight in the reach of science. It is just that we are trying to reach farther.