Michael says “My datapoem ‘Antibiotic Dispensing across Australia in 2017’ was inspired by my research into techniques for visualising antibiotic dispensing over time. I sourced nationwide data on antibiotic (Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical 5 code J01) dispensing from Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule Item Reports that are publicly available online. I used the antibiotic dispensing data to produce run charts in Microsoft Excel and Nightingale’s rose diagrams in AnyChart. I presented the results of my research, both orally and in poster form, at the Australian Science Communicators (ASC) Conference 2018 (http://2018conf.asc.asn.au/a-comparison-of-two-techniques-for-visualising-antibiotic-dispensing-over-time-the-run-chart-versus-nightingales-rose-diagram/).
I am interested in concrete poetry and datapoems in particular, having previously published a poem that visually represents the paracetamol concentration-time plot in the Mathematics issue of Cordite Poetry Review (http://cordite.org.au/poetry/mathematics/the-pharmacokinetics-of-paracetamol/).
I created ‘Antibiotic Dispensing Across Australia in 2017’ by placing poetry in text boxes over the blue line in the run chart showing overall antibiotic dispensing. The plot’s minimum, rise, maximum, and steady decline are communicated both visually and in words. I made a conscious decision to use rhyme (‘Summer low’ with ‘afterglow’ and ‘Spring’ with ‘brings’), as this poetic device can make poems more memorable. By referring to the seasons throughout the data poem, I addressed a theme that is common to traditional poetry, antibiotic utilisation, and time series analysis. I enjoy combining science with art and highlighting the commonalities between the two.”
Thanks Michael! You can find him on Twitter @m_jleach
I was asked by the science artist Kelly Stanford to create a poem celebrating Manchester’s contribution to science and technology, for her STEM-themed bee sculpture as part of #BeeInTheCity. The poem takes a bee-twist on Rutherford’s atomic model, splitting the atom (a Manchester first!) and graphene, for which Manchester scientists Professor Andre Geim and Professor Konstantin Novoselov won the 2010 Nobel Prize for physics. Professor Novoselov signed the bee along with 80 other researchers and scientists working in Manchester.
The bee outside Oxford road station (the poem is on the other side):
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 datapoem considers how social media facilitates the formation of groups that share their own version of reality. Such groups often attract members through a shared narrative about the world, for example political views or fringe beliefs such as conspiracy theories. These become mutually reinforcing as more members are added to form an ‘echo chamber’.
We all belong to such groups to some extent as we naturally gravitate to those whose views or company we enjoy. We tend to reject things that don’t support our existing beliefs and seek out things that make us feel good about those we hold. This is normal human behaviour, but its amplification on the internet can lead to fractured and polarised societies, susceptible to manipulation.
The poem is a haiku. The imagery references the ‘web’ of the internet with communities represented as droplets on the web, distorting objective reality to form their own truths.
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?
See all datapoems
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.
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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.
See all datapoems
“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.