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Sláinte to science


By Margaret Harris

I didn’t make it over to Ireland in mid-July for the big 2012 European Science Open Forum (ESOF) conference/science party in Dublin, so I was pleased to see one of ESOF’s more unusual offshoots land in my in-tray this week.

2012: Twenty Irish Poets Respond to Science in Twelve Lines is a lightweight little book with some hefty thinking inside it. As the title implies, the book contains 20 short poems about science – each written by a different poet from the island that gave the world such scientific luminaries as John Bell, William Rowan Hamilton and George Stokes. The poems’ subject matter ranges from the cosmic to the whimsical to the mundane, and two of the entries are composed of six lines in Irish Gaelic paired with six-line English translations. One that I particularly like (even though – or perhaps because – my pronunciation skills aren’t up to speaking it in the original) is called “Manannán”, and author Gabriel Rosenstock has provided the following translation:

Ladies and gentlemen
Allow me to introduce Manannán:
A microchip which is planted in the brain
Enabling us
To speak Manx

The book has been edited by Iggy McGovern, a physicist at Trinity College Dublin, so naturally, physics features in a number of the poems. One of the most inventive of these is Maurice Riordan’s “Nugget”, which is about – yes, really – the gold-covered lump of plutonium that Los Alamos scientists occasionally used as a doorstop during the Manhattan Project. Two others try to capture the sense of wonder found in gazing up at the night sky (with or without a telescope). All in all, it’s a lovely little book for anyone interested in Ireland, poetry or science – or better yet, all three.

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