A British Columbia poet lights up the pages of a popular science magazine with verses about the nature of light


On clear summer nights, poet Donna Kane sleeps on the front deck of her farmhouse in Rolla, British Columbia, in an old-fashioned bed under a blue quilt printed with crescent moons.

The writer draws his inspiration by looking at the sky in this northern part of the province, more than 750 kilometers from Vancouver.

“I feel connected. I feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself, and that comforts me. You look at the origins of light when you’re laying there looking at the stars,” Kane said. . .

Kane’s musings on starlight in the night sky inspired her to write a poem that blends scientific principles and the human experience of light reflection – a poem that now appears in a respected American science magazine.

The poem, On visible light, was published in the July issue of Scientific American magazine, alongside more traditional scholarly research on the thermodynamic limit, momentum calculation, and interstellar space.

For Kane, the inclusion of his poem is proof that literature and science are more closely linked than many people realize.

“I always thought science and art were very, very similar, trying to uncover the mysteries of the world and the universe. They both have that urge,” Kane told CBC News.

“Poetry explores. Ideas can emerge from really good poems that maybe scientists hadn’t really thought of in the same way.”

“Science and art are very, very similar because both disciplines attempt to explore the mysteries of the world and the universe,” said poet Donna Kane. (Submitted/Donna Kane)

Kane’s poem is a villanelle, a type of structured poem with refrains and a strict rhyme scheme, a form that dates back hundreds of years. She weaves science and imagery together with lines like “Just a slice of electromagnetism/wavelength and sight is ours, blindness gone/at the end of the journey through our nights”.

His appearance on the pages of Scientific American, which has more than eight million online readers worldwide every month, brought Kane stratospheric exposure.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll never get a bigger following than that,” Kane said. “Usually the scope of poetry is very small.”

The cover of 'Scientific American', whose main story is 'Voyagers' Final Frontier'.  It features an image of a satellite.
Kane’s poem appears in the July issue of Scientific American. The magazine has an online readership of around eight million people each month. (Submitted/Scientific American)

Scientific American poetry editor Dava Sobel told CBC News that Kane’s poem was “magnificent”.

“It’s emotionally evocative and yet scientifically informative. And it adheres to a very strict poetic form. So it’s a hard thing to pull off. But she really did it,” said Sobel, a former science writer for the New York Times who was a finalist. for the Pulitzer Prize.

Sobel, who asked astronaut Neil Armstrong to write the foreword to one of his books and who also has an asteroid named after him, believes poetry can illuminate science.

“Creativity flows smoothly between these two,” she said.

Dava Sobel poses for the camera in front of a sundial.  She has white hair, cropped short, and wears red-rimmed glasses.
Dava Sobel, Scientific American’s poetry editor, has previously published poems written by Nobel laureates in chemistry and physics. (Submitted/Glen Allsop)

Sobel said Scientific American published poetry in its very first issue in 1845, but had appeared only rarely since, until she started a monthly science poetry column in the magazine in 2020.

Since then, in addition to Kane’s villanelle, it has included poems written by Nobel laureates in chemistry and physics.

“Poetry should not be forbidden to anyone, nor should science,” she said.

Although an imaginative work, Kane’s poem had yet to meet the bar of accuracy and was rigorously checked by Scientific American before publication.

“They’re pretty serious that…what you wrote is right. You can do playful things, but the poem has to stand up to real science,” Kane said.

The face of British Columbia poet Donna Kane is reflected in the Pioneer 10 spacecraft during a visit to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC
Donna Kane’s face is reflected in a prototype of the Pioneer 10 spacecraft during a visit to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC The British Columbia poet is drawn to writing about science and space. (Submitted/Donna Kane)

The poet said she had always loved science and had written other works on space.

His book 2020, Orrery: Poems, featured a number of articles on Pioneer 10, a space probe launched to study Jupiter’s moons. He was a finalist for a Governor General’s Award for English-Language Poetry.

One of his space-themed poems will be included in an upcoming anthology published by Cambridge University Press.


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