Science and poetry
“Eyes, nose, lips…” Ma’am Caling taught in a sing-song voice. The class parroted her movements: We touched the eyes, nose and lips and called them “eyes,” “nose” and “lips.” Our hands grazed the different parts of our faces as our mouths identified their names.
“Very good!” she said, clapping.
One by one, she called us. We needed to enumerate at least five parts of the body and explain their function. When it was my turn, I finished the activity with a perfect score. I went home smiling from ear to ear and reported my five stars to my mother, like a diligent officer.
It did not last long though. In high school, I grew to despise the memorization and the names. I thought they were useful only because my grades added a measurable value to my efforts. But if I had to choose between answering and not answering, the latter began winning in a heartbeat.
I felt conflicted. Good grades can buy you a ticket to a bright future, I was told. Never mind the inadequate facilities in school, the incompetent instructors, the nonexistent support for science programs. Stick to the theoretical and textbook definitions. Stop asking why we don’t have spaceships. Focus on calculating the velocity. No erasures. Your time starts now.
But there was hardly a minute. In a test, I hastily wrote letter “A”, since for the three preceding items my answer had been letter “C.” Instead of feeling upset at my mischief, I left the classroom relieved.
The vivid memory of my final science examination in high school made an imprint. I veered away from taking hard sciences in college. My academic background in communication arts solidified my appreciation for the arts and further steered me away from science.
However, the more I read and wrote, the more I found similarities between them. The strange terrain of science began appearing in poetry.
Cataloging is a writing technique used for emphasis and defamiliarization. Under an umbrella idea, the poet will list associated words to make a point or categorize them. The insistent repetition invokes not only attention, but a new invitation for meaning.
In science, I read that Aristotle had devised a system of grouping for animals. He classified them under genera, and under genera was another classification called species. Today, this system is commonly known as taxonomy.
The two (poetry and science) seem to manifest the inherent human inclination to look for patterns and commonality. They are methods that highlight the human urge and motivation to interpret the world. If science conducts experiments to arrive at an observed truth and reality, poetry tweaks language to arrive at different levels of stating truth and reality.
The seemingly insipid act of identifying arbitrary names with bodily parts in primary school now makes sense.
The way we express our condition is limited by the lexicon we have at hand. We need words — ideas, names, explanations, interpretations. Both science and poetry provide a vast array of opportunities to grasp and play with that most human need.
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Pauline Jean G. Vercaza, 20, is a communication arts writing major at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
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