When Art and Science Interface
Dr. Madhur Anand, professor of ecology at the University of Guelph, reads from her latest book of poetry at Redeemer.

“I’ve imagined giving up science, but I cannot imagine giving up writing.” From the mouth of a poet, these words wouldn’t usually surprise us. But what if the poet holds a PhD in theoretical ecology, teaches Environmental Science at the University of Guelph, and produces research that is acclaimed both nationally and internationally? Then the statement certainly holds more weight.

So goes the story of Madhur Anand, a Canadian poet and professor who came to Redeemer on Thursday, January 19th to read from her first book of poems, A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes.

“She fits in perfectly at a liberal arts university,” says Dr. Deborah Bowen, chair of Redeemer’s English department. Anand’s pursuit of art and science exemplifies how a scientist or an artist’s passions need not be confined to a single discipline.

“I don’t see those divisions [between art and science],” says Anand. “Conversations between [disciplines] don’t happen as often as they should. Exciting things happen at those interfaces.”

Anand shared an interface between art and science she encountered in a laboratory in 1996. She was in the final stages of her thesis considering ecological modelling and the recovery of vegetation and forests after disturbances. Most of her time was spent alone behind a computer—“a boring environment,” she quipped. But one day, that pattern shifted. “I got up and went over to a window,” she recounts. “From there I saw a horse chestnut tree and a bright, green lawn. Then I walked back to my desk and wrote my first poem.”

“Suddenly my poetry and research were on equal ground.”

An equally unexpected scene followed when Anand mentioned her poetry to her professor. “He encouraged me!” She says, seemingly still baffled twenty years later. “He said to include it in my thesis, and suddenly my poetry and research were on equal ground. That was a significant moment.”

As Anand explores poetry further, she hasn’t stuck to a specific writing process. It always begins with noticing something out of place—whether in language, events, people, or her environment, which might explain the diverse subject matter in A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes. Inside of the book are poems arising from Anand’s travels, marriage, children and, of course, science.

Though educating readers isn’t the book’s telos, readers are bound to learn something scientific while reading. This is because of Anand’s fascination with the theories, metaphors and beautifully complex language of her field.

“This is the Ring of Six” is one of the last poems Anand read to the gathered crowd. Written as a list, each line answers back to the title as something of which there are six. A selection from the middle shows how science appears in her work: “degrees of separation / ounces of sugar in the ‘easy chocolate cake’ recipe / months, we spent trying to conceive / irises, connected by rhizomes.”

Anand reminds us to be thankful for stories that prod us toward our own interfaces. A New Index For Predicting Catastrophes is available for purchase online, and is well worth taking the time to explore.

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