Review

Dear James

Thanks for the gift and congratulations. It’s an achievement to produce such a collection. I’ve read the whole book once and several of the poems a few times.

The diaristic nature of the collection makes it interesting particularly as I know you personally. The chronology at the end is helpful in sorting out some people and things referred to fairly obliquely in the verses.

It is interesting you have felt such tension between being a scientist and wanting to write poetry. I was surprised to hear you felt it inadvisable to make your poetry-writing known to your colleagues. While they might regard poetry as subjective wouldn’t they continue to judge your scientific work on its merits?

I thought over the years your writing became more sophisticated. There were some youthful infelicities of phrase, but they stopped after a while. I noted a few phrases and images I liked: ‘I made many enemies among ideas’ ; ‘Twitter and fro’ , ‘panoramic supermarkets’ and ‘from swordfish to Socrates’ , ‘And the sharp rusty-edge of/Love’ , ‘looking after her boyfriend-pet.’ . I know the feeling you’re talking about in ‘I must record this happiness’,  I thought ‘The Woodcutter’, was rather good.

There is a change from the thoughts and feelings of the young man and those of the older one in the 1990s but there’s a consistency of voice – and thought all through.

Have you written more poetry since 1994 or did you stop about then? I stopped writing poetry many years ago, but have regrets. I think the effort to produce what I did was good for my other writing.

Peter Entwisle
Dunedin curator, historian and writer


The Reply:

Hi Peter

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. It was difficult to get a sense of the overall effect. I did try to maintain a consistency of voice. I have written more poems since 1994 but they are not sufficiently distance that I feel comfortable publishing them —  too much information.

Judging scientific work on its merits — in other words ‘let the facts speak for themselves’ is not the way science works. There are no “facts’, there are only ways of seeing things through the lens of scientific theories. These theories in turn are based on what is currently fashionable and agreed upon by the scientific community at the time. Theories are not disproven, they are abandoned for new ones that have more supporting evidence (“facts”). Maintaining a scientific reputation is very competitive and you can be easily excommunicated for holding fanciful (poetic) views.

Thanks again, you can make comments on this online version of the poems if you wish.

Wha'd you think?