Amy Catanzano’s investigative poetics
Amy Catanzano, whose work investigates the intersections of literature, science and consciousness, will lead a master class in Investigative Poetry at the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2019 Spring Conference held at UNCG on April 27.
The Wake Forest University poet-in-residence and associate professor has received national recognition for winning the Noemi Book Award for Starlight in Two Million: A Neo-Scientific Novella and the PEN USA Literary Award for Multiversal, among other honors. At WFU, she has received Arts and Humanities Awards to conduct creative research for her writing at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland and on the Dark Energy Survey at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. She has an MFA from the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
In email, I asked her to define the term “investigative poetics.” She explained that it’s “an approach to poetry in which poets creatively research subjects of study” and is inspired by Ed Sanders, the poet, singer, and social activist who co-founded the ‘60s avant-rock group The Fugs and wrote the radical manifesto Investigative Poetry.
“Sanders argues that poets, not only historians and journalists, should assume responsibility for the description of history and ‘historical reality.’ He wrote the manifesto in 1976 for a visit to the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, which is now a university with an internationally-known literary community and writing program focused on experimental and contemplative approaches to writing. I taught there before teaching at Wake Forest. While investigative poetics is an evolving term, its focus on ambitious, active, and imaginative examination often makes it a revolutionary approach to poetry.”
I asked Catanzano how approaching this subject in a single-day will differ from doing so at WFU. When she teaches investigative poetics in her college classes, she leads students in discussions of Sanders’ manifesto and asks them to come up with their own topics for investigation, conduct site visits, complete exploratory exercises, write poems based on their findings, and then discuss those poems in a workshop setting, where feedback is provided.
“For the one-day class, I’ll draw from the most essential aspects of this process and give the participants resources to move forward on their own. Participants can already have a topic of investigation in mind, or they can wait to be inspired during class.”
Since 2009, Catanzano has published a series of essays on a form of investigative poetics that she calls “quantum poetics,” exploring the intersections of poetry and science, particularly physics. The term is derived from quantum physics, also known as quantum theory and matrix mechanics, a fundamental theory in physics which describes nature at the smallest scales of energy levels of atoms and subatomic particles, incorporating the concepts of quantization of energy, wave-particle duality, and the uncertainty principle.
“Quantum poetics is my integrated artistic theory, interpretive framework, and writing praxis that explores poetry in relation to quantum physics as well as string theory, astrophysics, and more. As part of this work, I conduct site visits to scientific research centers.”
During her visit to CERN, Catanzano spoke with leading theoretical physicists. There, she told me, she also “saw the control room of the ATLAS experiment, which used the Large Hadron Collider to discover the Higgs boson, an elementary particle of matter” that describes nature at the smallest scales of energy levels of atoms and subatomic particles.
I asked Catanzano about Entanglements: A Conference on the Intersections of Poetry, Science, and Art, which she is convening at WFU on May 13-16.
“Entanglements is bringing together 10 leading poets, scientists, artists, and scholars from around the world to investigate the intersections of poetry, science, and art in daytime and evening events and performances. Wake Forest presenters, special guests, and visiting attendees are also participating. The conference, most of which is open to the public, will provide WFU and the Triad an enriched setting where the themes of the conference are explored. Please join us!”
But before that, she will be conducting her master class for The North Carolina Writers’ Network 2019 Spring Conference. This full day of workshops and sessions on the craft and business of writing will be held at UNCG’s MHRA Building at the corner of Spring Garden and Forest Streets on Saturday, April 27. Approximately 150 writers will gather for classes and programming that includes faculty readings, open mics, Slush Pile Live! and more. The keynote address will be by essayist and poet Michael McFee, recipient of the 2018 NC Award for Literature (the state’s highest civilian award).
The deadline for discounted online registration is April 21. More information can be found online.
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.