My poem, “The Poet Gene,”  received honorable mention in the 2011 ESRC Genomics Forum Poetry Competition announced this weekend.

The competition was co-sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council’s Genomics Network and the Scottish Poetry Library of Edinburgh.   The judges for the competition were Pippa Goldschmidt, Professor Steve Yearley, director of the ESRC Genomics Forum, Peggy Hughes, the communications officer at the Scottish Poetry Library, and poet Kona Macphee.

Writing about my poem, the judges said, “Understandably, most of the poems were serious, and so we particularly enjoyed the humour in one of the runners up, “Improving the Human: ‘The Poet Gene’,” a nicely self-referential poem which imagines the perhaps negative impact of genetic engineering upon poetry itself.”

Here is my poem

“The Poet Gene”

The gene for “poet” has likely been isolated,
somewhere in a lab in southern California.
And I wonder how close it is to the gene
that makes you crave potato chips
or the “coffee-drinker” gene, perhaps,
or the one that causes procrastination.
If they have the poet gene cornered
in a Petri dish, will they admonish it
for all the bad poems ever written,
however unwittingly?
Would it improve the human
to have the poet gene spliced
into fruit or beef – or even bacon?
Poetry-enhanced bacon. Now that’s
genetic modification one can get behind!
Perhaps it can be modified by the reader gene,
increasing the number of poetry readers.
Oh, but what if it went “aft agley”?
What if this innocent experiment turned wicked?
Think of it, more bad poems by more bad poets—
(Increased productivity isn’t always a good thing.)
Perhaps this poem is, in fact, one of them,
a mutated, altered, monster poem
waiting to grab you by the throat and…Ahem.
Think of the sheer volume of bad poetry
overtaking the world, smothering us;
entire forests decimated for paper
upon which these poems are printed
or hundreds of iPhone apps built
to accommodate a staggering number of poems
cranked out by “GMPs” (genetically modified poets)
careering and MFAing all over the place.
Undoubtedly, someone will decide to splice
the poet gene from one poet into another. Then what?
Talk about trouble: one side striving for simplicity;
the other deliberately obtuse and indirect.
No, best leave the poet gene out of even this poem;
rather, focus on how to make potato chip consumption
actually slimming to the human figure, especially
when consumed with large quantities of your favorite ale
and generous servings of bacon.

–Scott Edward Anderson

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Crafted in the form of a double helix and addressing the issue of cloning, “Forward Deck” by Edinburgh writer, Sophie Cooke, was awarded first prize in the ESRC Genomics Forum Poetry Competition.

Kona Macphee (poet and competition judge) joined Sophie and fellow poets, Russell Jones (3rd Prize) and Katie Gooch (honourable mention), as they presented public readings of their work at the Scottish Poetry Library on Saturday 29 January 2011.

Hosted in partnership with the Scottish Poetry Library, the competition received over 200 entries from writers inspired to consider how work in the field of genomics, including DNA profiling, personalised medicine and stem cell research, is helping society by “improving the human”.

Congratulating all the winners Professor Steve Sturdy, Deputy Director of the ESRC Genomics Forum, said, “A decade since the first mapping of the human genome was hailed as the start of a new era, we are still coming to terms with the implications of these advances. Our winning poems highlight this sense of uncertainty surrounding genetic technologies and the role they might play in ‘improving the human’ and, we hope they will encourage others to explore their own views on these important issues.”

“Poetry can be a powerful communication form,” commented Pippa Goldschmidt, Genomics Forum Writer in Residence was the inspiration behind the competition. “Our winner, Sophie Cooke, used a compelling and disturbing visual metaphor to address the issue of cloning in ‘Forward Deck’. Many poems found inspiration in the idea that humanity is in our imperfections and the second placed poem, ‘Digital’, by Nina Boyd, illustrated this idea beautifully. In third place, ‘Chromosome Medley’ by Russell Jones offers readers an energetic imagining of the impact of genetic choice on the past, present and future.”

“We’re delighted that genomics provided such an exciting topic of inspiration,” said Peggy Hughes, Communications Officer at the Scottish Poetry Library and a judge for the competition.  “The variety in subject matter, together with diverse poetic styles, and the global perspectives offered by writers from America, New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Uganda and India, combined to make judging difficult but hugely rewarding.”

For more information, including all of the winning poems and honourable mentions: ESRC Genomics Network

[From Press Release]

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While I was away this weekend up at the Rodale Institute’s organic farm in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, my poem “Cultivating (Preserving)” appeared in the Scottish online journal, Bolts of Silk. It’s another poem from my “Dwelling” sequence, which Alison Hawthorne Deming has called, “a phenomenology of how we live on the Earth.”

Bolts of Silk, which has the subtitle “beautiful poetry with something to say,” is curated by the delightful Crafty Green Poet, Juliet Wilson of Edinburgh, Scotland, whom I met through our both being published in another Scottish journal, Anon.

The irony of this poem being published while I was unplugged up at an organic farm was not lost on me. Perhaps (I’m not going to ask) it wasn’t lost on Juliet, who follows me on Twitter and could very well have seen my last tweet on Friday evening as I was heading to the farm.

In any event, here is my poem,


Cultivating (Preserving)

Dwelling as preserving
is cultivating.
Dwelling means knowing
what inhabits a place
and understanding that
which belongs to a place.

We cultivate what grows,
while building things
that don’t grow.
We seek the organic
in our own creations,
which are inorganic.

Imposing our will
on the landscape,
we can remove either
that which promotes capacity
or that which prevents capacity.

We are tenders of the garden,
we tend what needs tending
(heart or “langscape”)
What we save remains—

–Scott Edward Anderson

Side Portrait of the poet Edwin Morgan, aged 8...
Image via Wikipedia

The great Scottish poet Edwin Morgan passed away nearly two weeks ago and the tributes and accolades have continued throughout the Edinburgh Book Festival that’s just ended.

I’ve been fortunate to follow much of it via Twitter, having connected with such wonderful poets and poetry lovers as @ByLeavesWeLive, @OneNightStanzas, and @craftygreenpoet among others, who have made me feel like I was there alongside them, paying my respects.

Morgan was a remarkably gifted poet, and gifted not only in the sort of conventional sense of the word.  I mean he had an incomparable ear for the rich variety and breadth of poetry that one rarely sees in this day of specialization and of literary “camps.”

Morgan saw the magical in the ordinary and wasn’t about to limit himself by the constraints of either subject matter or style.  He could be funny, such as “The First Men on Mercury,” but he was equally adept when he turned his hand at tender, more traditional love poems.

One of my favorites — probably my favorite Morgan poem — is “Strawberries,” which you can read in its entirety at the Edwin Morgan Archives at the Scottish Poetry Library.

For now, I’ll just quote the ending, which is stunning even without mention of the strawberries or the scene between two lovers:

let the sun beat

on our forgetfulness
one hour of all
the heat intense
and summer lightning
on the Kilpatrick hills

let the storm wash the plates

–Edwin Morgan

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