Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Spelling the Hours edited by Rose Lemberg

Spelling the Hours edited by Rose Lemberg, subtitle Poetry Celebrating the Forgotten Others of Science and Technology, is not the kind of book I would usually go out of my way to pick up, mainly because I don't read very much poetry. I'd glad I did, though.

"When I first envisioned Spelling the Hours, I imagined a crowd of poets first researching and then writing about forgotten figures of science and technology around the world. What happened instead was much more intimate: many, if not all the poets wrote about people with whom they were already deeply familiar." - From the Introduction

The idea behind Spelling the Hours was to highlight some of the overlooked figures in science and technology. In practice, this means that it was a collection of poems about people other than straight cis men in science and tech. A lot of the poems were about women who did not get contemporaneous credit or recognition for their work. There was a lot of breadth in the topics covered from physics and astronomy to medicine and computing. Some of the names were familiar to me, like Jocelyn Bell and Lise Meitner, but most were not. I imagine that most readers will find at least some new names in this volume.

I'm not going to comment on every poem individually. One that particularly stood out to me was "Girl Hours" by Sofia Samatar, the last poem in the chapbook. It focusses on Henrietta Swan Leavitt and the "girl hours" used to perform calculations. I liked how it mimicked the structure of a scientific paper but in reverse and it was a poignant note to end the chapbook on.

They were all good poems though and I highly recommend this chapbook to fans of science and poetry and to anyone interested in hearing about some overlooked scientific names. I should add that, one of the reasons some of the names were familiar to me is because I am a scientist myself and some of these stories get around a bit more in the scientific community (I've seen an award named after Lise Meitner being presented and I heard about Jocelyn Bell pretty much when I learnt what a pulsar was). I imagine a different spread of names might be familiar (or more unfamiliar) to different people.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Stone Bird Press
Series: no
Format read: paperback
Source: gift from publisher

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