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Physics EnvyAmerican Poetry and Science in the Cold War and After$
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Peter Middleton

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226290003

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226290140.001.0001

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Scientific American Poetry

Scientific American Poetry

Rae Armantrout, Jackson Mac Low, and Robert Duncan

(p.197) 6 Scientific American Poetry
Physics Envy

Peter Middleton

University of Chicago Press

This chapter discusses how four poets made use, or may have done so, of specific articles from Scientific American, a magazine that deliberately set out to provide the public with sufficient information about scientific developments to contribute to democracy. Sometimes a poet only later acknowledges it as a source, as in the case of Rae Armantrout’s poem “Natural History,” which critiques sociobiology. The chapter speculates whether Frank O’Hara’s famous poem about the sun was written in response to a specific Scientific American article and concludes that the circumstantial evidence is not strong enough. Jackson Mac Low’s poems in Stanzas for Iris Lezak make use of several articles from Scientific American. The chapter argues that his acrostic proceduralism is an original mode of inquiry by which he exposes hidden strata in scientific texts, and exposes norms of poetic communication. Robert Duncan explicitly cites a diagram in an article on human evolution in the Scientific American in his poem “Osiris and Set,” which is shown to be responsive not only to that passage in the article, but also to the general mood of an issue of the magazine full of advertisements for advanced nuclear weaponry.

Keywords:   Rae Armantrout, sociobiology, Jackson Mac Low, Robert Duncan, Osiris and Set, Stanzas for Iris Lezak, Scientific American, inquiry, nuclear

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