Darwin’s Microscope reflects the life and influence of Charles Darwin, who was born on 12 February 1809. Swain uses the microscopic ‘lens’ as a metaphor for viewing the world with secular wonder, revealing greater meaning in looking deeper – even to the cellular level.
Contemplating the natural world, this new poet brings the Darwinian point of view into everyday life. Darwin’s Microscope brilliantly shows how science and poetry complement and enlighten each other, to the point where they become nearly inseparable.
‘This is beautiful stuff. I was left with the absolute conviction that, with young Kelley entering the field, both natural science and poetry are in good hands.’
Ann Drysdale in Envoi, Issue 145, Oct 09
‘With quiet authority, these poems situate our lives in the geological and biological unfolding of the ages. The ability to combine scientific with poetic forms of knowledge is precious and rare, and Kelley Swain possesses it in abundance. Darwin’s Microscope is a splendid debut volume from a very promising poet.’
Ann Fisher-Wirth, author of Carta Marina, Five Terraces and Blue Window
‘Swain is a poet after my own heart; someone compelled to celebrate the arts and sciences, the wonders of our world. With wise and musical phrases, intelligence, and well-phrased conclusions, this new writer has produced a collection of excellent poems, filled with many fine touches.’
Dorothy Sutton, author of Startling Art: Darwin and Matisse
‘Darwin’s Microscope is a rich and personal engagement with Darwin and his science – both helping to bring the feeling of his lived experience into the mind of the reader and connecting our time – and our experiences – with those of the celebrated Victorian man of science.’
Dr John van Wyhe, Director, The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online, University of Cambridge
‘Kelley Swain shows Darwin’s world of natural history to be as rich and strange as the myths it replaced. From butterflies and whales to Darwin himself, the objects of her meticulous and respectful gaze are bound up in the history of the whole world, yet it is their uniqueness above all that Swain treasures in these fresh and subtle poems.’
Dr John Holmes, Lecturer in English Literature, University of Reading
‘...a modern poet’s celebration of the great biologist’s achievement.’
Keith Richmond, Tribune
One poem cannily includes an extract from Emily Dickinson, and there is an elegy for a father told – with an admirably Dickinsonian ‘slant’ – through the mating habits of a sea turtle. Bravura!
Anna Woodford, in Mslexia, Issue 41, Apr/May/Jun 2009
‘Swain compels us to agree that history and science are actually much the richer for the intimately personal dimension we usually, mistakenly, suppress.’
Heidi Kunz, Associate Professor of English at Randolph College
‘A major theme of the collection is Swain’s relationship with Darwin, her fascination, her repulsion, her difficulty positioning herself as a biologist and Darwinian.’
Assent (previously Poetry Nottingham)
Darwin’s Microscope costs £7.50 and was published in February 2009.
hard-thorned buffalo bur:
asking for these seeds
with his humble Victorian air,
Charles Darwin wrote a letter.
He had a wish to experimentise:
I have read with unusual interest
your very interesting paper . . .
on the flowers of ‘Solanum rostratum’ . . .
if you would send me some seeds . . .
Though the letter reached its mark,
nine days later, Darwin died.
. . . or, what is left of Darwin
What is left of a man
when two hundred years have passed,
his cousins distantly pleased
with their thin-running blood,
his face on a banknote,
his home a museum
where ten children played, where he fell ill
and roused himself to walks and work countless times,
where he loved his family but lost his faith,
where he hesitated and wondered and was spooked
into writing a book which changed our future
as well as our past.
See him wrapped in cold towels
shaking with fever, or turning from his daughter’s
death-bed, knowing his wife’s God
would be her only solace,
or turning from his son’s death-bed,
never saying aloud how nature had selected against
this loved but deficient boy.
See him hunched at a wooden table,
one hundred barnacles systematically aligned,
his touchy stomach the worse for the alcohol-preservative smell,
his eyes squinted towards the creatures he came to hate.
Weathering of time,
rust of human memory,
snowflakes of a glacier,
pebbles of a mountain,
fist-sized rock of a whale’s baleen,
little but a fossil of a man.
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