The love affair between science and poetry

Zayani Bhatt in AFR Weekend:

Poetry and science seem like opposites – but the two have long been intertwined. At London’s Roundhouse in June, performance poet Robin Lamboll’s take was wonderfully dramatic. It featured a shouting, angry and judging voice performance on “science being fun facts of the natural world and religion being Nietzsche’s The Antichrist”.

Watching it made me think about the flirtation of poetry and science and how deep a romance it is. In the late 1700s, scientific treatises were written in poetic form because poetry was considered the language of intellect and the future. In the 1800s, Lewis Carroll experimented with mathematical logic to create The Square Stanza.

And who can forget Dante’s The Divine Comedy; a smorgasbord of history and religion which at its damning best was underpinned by solid science such as the action of gravity as he travels to the core of the earth and on Lucifer’s fall through the galaxy.

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The Sensualist

Ian Buruma in the New Yorker:

Much of “The Tale of Genji,” the eleventh-century Japanese masterpiece often called the world’s first novel, is about the art of seduction. Not that any sexual act is ever mentioned; very little in Murasaki Shikibu’s prose is plainly stated. Things are suggested, alluded to, often nebulously. What counts in the seduction scenes is the art, the poetry. Quite literally so: the proper approach to a desired lady was through poems, written on scented paper of the finest quality, delivered by an elegantly dressed go-between of appropriate social rank. More poems would be exchanged as soon as the approach bore fruit. A “morning after” poem was an essential part of etiquette.

One reason that physical contact between men and women is hardly ever described in “Genji” is that courtly lovers almost never saw one another clearly, and certainly not naked; full nudity is rare even in traditional Japanese erotic art. Women of the upper class sat hidden in murky rooms, behind curtains, screens, and sliding doors. For a respectable woman to be seen in daylight, especially standing up, instead of reclining in an interior, under many layers of clothing, would have been provocative beyond belief. Women were shielded by curtains even when they spoke to male members of their own family. A male suitor could be driven wild by the sight of a woman’s sleeve spilling out from underneath a shade, or by the mere sound of silk rustling behind a lacquer screen.

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A slave in Scotland: ‘I fell into a trap – and I couldn’t get out’

Annie Kelly and Mei-Ling McNamara in the Guardian:

Just a few years ago, hundreds of tourists passed through this hotel each summer, drawn by the natural beauty of the West Highlands. According to scathing reviews on TripAdvisor and other travel websites, the view was the only good thing about the hotel. Archived posts say the rooms were filthy, the taps broken, the food inedible. Many reviewers complain about the staff, describing them as overwhelmed, unskilled and incompetent.

What the guests didn’t know was that what they had experienced was not poor service, but modern slavery. The men making their beds, sweeping their floors, cleaning their dishes and cooking their food were trafficked from their native Bangladesh and exploited for profit at the Stewart hotel, sometimes for years at a time.

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Farah Ghuznavi on her book Fragments of Riversong, anthologies, and literary festivals.


It wasn’t long ago that Farah Ghuznavi avoided calling herself a writer, a fact she doesn’t shy away from in her posts for Commonwealth Writers, where she served as the Writer in Residence last year. Ghuznavi was more focused in the past on building a career in the development sector – which she did, working with organizations like Grameen Bank and the United Nations. The spur to write fiction came unexpectedly, from a newspaper report about child abuse. She wanted the issue addressed beyond newspaper reporting and her editor at Star Magazine, where Ghuznavi contributes a weekly column, encouraged her to tackle it herself.

“I was reluctant, because I felt that people who abused children wouldn’t be interested in reading a column,” she writes. She replied to her editor: “It has to be a story, one where they (the readers) get engaged before they see where it’s heading. And it needs to be written from the child’s point of view, so that other people – those of us who see what happens in these households but too often look the other way – really have to face up to the consequences of what happens…and start thinking about how we can handle these issues differently.”

Three days later Ghuznavi had her first story at hand.

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Rajshahi: the city that took on air pollution – and won

Emma Graham-Harrison and Vidhi Doshi in the Guardian:

Then suddenly Rajshahi, in Bangladesh, hit a turning point so dramatic that it earned a spot in the record books: last year, according to UN data, the town did more than any other worldwide to rid itself of air particles so harmful to human health.

“We didn’t know about this,” admits Ashraful Haque, the city’s chief engineer, who like some of his fellow residents is rather bemused by the achievement.

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The Airplane As A Microcosm Of Class Divisions

Alva Noë in NPR:

The best predictor of how a person will act is not character but, rather, the situation in which he or she finds him or herself. Like water seeking its path to the sea, human action is governed by landscape. The best way to be faithful is to keep yourself out of the way of temptation. And the best way to make a society of socially minded, considerate people is to create, or design, the conditions most conducive to that outcome.

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