Both science and poetry are tools used to analyze life in greater specificity, to break it into parts. Whether those parts materialize in numbers or words, they are still smaller parts, and so, by this logic, one might consider science and poetry similar things fulfilling different intellectual duties. What would happen if these two arts of the left and right brain were to combine? What scope of knowledge could be gained?
Perhaps this line of questioning is what inspired Anna Duke Reach, the director of programs for the Kenyon Review, to create a workshop that married the two inherently connected ways of thinking.
Due to Reach’s initiative, and the passion of two inspired Kenyon professors of Biology, Chris Gillen and Andrew Kerkhoff, the Kenyon Review Young Science Writers Workshop for high school students completed its first session this summer. At the workshop, about two dozen 16 to 18-year-olds, fascinated with both writing and science, came to Kenyon’s campus to study the many intersections of the empirical and literary.
Workshop attendees learned both to look at the world with scientific accuracy and to see it as something creatively motivating. Unlike previous experiences with science in high school classrooms, the workshop nudged its students to approach science as, in the words of Kerkhoff, “not a collection of dry facts, but a creative, human endeavour — rife with all of our typical human triumphs and failures.” The curriculum attempted to make what is unrelatable and unemotional into something that could be considered poetic.
“We encountered differences between scientific and literary approaches to explaining the world … we were more often intrigued by the similarities,” Gillen wrote in an email to the Collegian. In Gillen’s words, the workshop participants were “impressive and courageous. Writing creatively about science is hard, and it takes courage to share writing in draft form with peers and instructors. As instructors, we were amazed at how enthusiastically and successfully the participants met these challenges.”
The bravery that Gillen discusses is perhaps the most essential element of the Young Science Writers Workshop. It takes this bravery and curiosity to apply a familiar pattern of thinking to an unfamiliar realm. “[J]ust after dusk,” Kerkhoff wrote, “we could see four planets simultaneously, in a line across the sky: Saturn, Jupiter, Venus and Mars. One of the students, who had never even held a pair of binoculars looked through a pair up at Jupiter and was just astonished. She was just so astounded that she was on one planet, looking out at another. There is so much to be amazed about, if you just take the time to consider it.”
Even though it hosts only a handful of high schoolers a year, the Kenyon Review has changed how students interact with both English and science.