A poem about endless searching, pattern matching and breaking out. The form of this piece presented a particular challenge, both in establishing the reading order of lines and in their very precise lengths to fit between the stars.
This is an experimental poem concrete about ideas that take on a life of their own. The design is based on a sperm fertilising an egg under a microscope, and also suggests lighting the fuse on a bomb, in recognition that some ideas can have uncontrolled creative and destructive potential.
Instagram users also stated that the spark represents the attraction between two people that eventually coalesces into a new person. I didn’t think of that but it’s a great interpretation!
Escape Velocity is a datapoem about attempting daunting goals. It uses data from NASA on the speed required to escape the gravitational clutches of the different planets in our solar system. The escape velocity depends on the mass of the planet, with the ringed giants requiring the greatest speed. I included Pluto as a planet, but recognised its ambiguous status by placing a question mark alongside it as the final line.
Visually the datapoem is intended to evoke an Icarus-like figure flying towards the sun. Icarus of course plummeted to Earth after the wax holding his wings together was melted by the sun. The poem asks is it really the magnitude of your goal that prevents you from achieving it, or could it be fear of success, like Icarus getting too close to the sun?
Malaise Traps is a blackout poem on the declining insect population as reported in Hallmann et al (2017). Unlike traditional poetry, which is an additive exercise, a blackout poem takes found material and subtracts portions to leave a poem behind. In this case the material was the abstract of the paper, and 75% was eliminated to reflect the loss of insects over the period covered.
The title comes from the ‘malaise traps’ used to catch insects in the study. Poetically the phrase suggests an inescapable sickness and the poem references materialism (abundance and decline, status and trends), which underlies the degradation of the environment.
Insects are vital components in all terrestrial ecosystems and food webs, as pollinators, scavengers predators and prey. It is alarming that such a reduction could occur without the general population noticing, although many have commented on the loss of specific species. Complex systems tend to have feedback loops and balancing mechanisms that can accommodate changes up to a point; but once that point is passed, the consequences can be catastrophic.
This datapoem looks at the biomechanics of skin and the disintegration of identity under increasing pressure.
The graph is a stress-strain diagram used to record how materials stretch or compression (strain) under a given load (stress). In skin, collagen fibres are initially wavy coiled, but align and are pulled taut as they get stretched. Eventually they snap and the skin tears.
Skin is the barrier between us and the outside world, defining the boundary of our physical bodies. It also allows us to sense the world through touch and temperature.
Under psychological pressure our sense of self can begin to break down, as we struggle to compartmentalise things and our emotions surface in unpredictable ways.
Ouroboros depicts rising global temperatures since 1880 in the context of a cycle of consumerism and estrangement from nature. The title references the snake that eats its own tail. This hints at the self-destructive cycle of consumption that fuels anthropogenic climate change and also the unusual circular form of the poem, made possible by the animated ‘barrel’ data visualisation.
This piece was a collaboration between Kev Pluck, a coder and data analyst who developed the data visualisation, and James Stone, an amateur poet and founder of Poetry in Data.
Kev says “I’m a software engineer who has, in the past year, become obsessed with climate data trying to find new and innovative ways of presenting it to the general public. I like that after 20 years of coding experience I am still learning techniques especially now that I have started animating data. I feel that what is happening to the environment is too important to ignore and that these animations are my small contribution to nudge people into improving it.”
“Input Segregation was first published by Palaver Magazine in 2017. The poem was inspired by the paper “Modality-specific segregation of input to ant mushroom bodies.” published in 1999 by Gronenberg, W. This paper was one of the first insect neuro papers I ever read, so it made quite the impact on me and really drew me into the field.
This is a ‘found’ poem, which means the words were all ‘found’ in a different source. To make this poem, I took each section of the paper (abstract, materials and methods, discussion, etc) and pulled out poetic words, remixing them to make something new while still maintaining the essence of the original paper. While poems can be ‘found’ in newspaper articles, blog posts, and more, I enjoy using primary research articles as my source material – sometimes we forget to see the beauty among the more dry terms, but it is always there.”
Meghan Barrett is a PhD student at Drexel University studying bug brains, pesticides, and bee diversity; she splits her attention between insects, poetry, baking, hazelnut coffee, and her cat, Nyx. Her writing has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Firefly, The Trumpeter, Gandy Dancer, Palaver, and Crabfat magazines. The biology behind her poetry, as well as more about her scientific and science communication work, can be found on her website: meghan-barrett.com or by following her on Twitter (@Abiogenesister) or on Facebook.
Asymptote explores the mathematical concept of getting infinitely closer but never touching.
The structure of the poem suggests pairs: before and after, and each of the two parties involved in an encounter. The asymptote itself, the point of maximum closeness, is both the barrier they cannot cross and a point of reflection. This reflection is both literal, a mirror image in time, and psychological.
This datapoem looks at the cycle of creation and annihilation at the quantum level, where matter and antimatter collide to produce pure energy, which can then turn back into matter and antimatter.
This process is illustrated by a Feynman diagram. These diagrams are named after their creator Richard Feynman, a brilliant physicist and science communicator. They show how subatomic particles such as electrons, photons and quarks move through space and time, where they collide or exchange information, and what is produced. They are a much simpler way of showing some very complex equations.
The diagram in this datapoem shows the annihilation of an electron (e-) and its antimatter counterpart, the positron (e+), into pure energy in the form of gamma-rays (the wavy line labelled ‘γ’). The gamma-rays then shoot off in opposite directions and may convert back into electron-positron pairs when they pass by an atomic nucleus.
The quantum world is a very strange place, with counter-intuitive rules and unexpected results. We are of course made of matter that is subject to quantum phenomena, but we don’t notice its weird effects at the macroscopic level. We are beginning to unravel its workings however and harness tremendous creative and destructive power as a result. Practical applications include transistors, lasers and nuclear power, but also weapons based on these technologies.
Ultimately, as we gain mastery over the fundamental forces of nature, we will become capable of creating great things, or annihilating ourselves, reflecting the quantum world. This poem proposes that the difference between the two outcomes is love, a characteristic that distinguishes us from the unthinking quantum realm, but which might be in short supply.