This past week, graduate student Emily Ruppel wrote an editorial for the MIT newspaper The Tech that offered a formula even a poet can understand: "MIT - poetry = a travesty." She was lamenting the cancellation of MIT's "Advanced Poetry Workshop" for financial reasons, while the school continued to offer such courses as "Writing for Social Media," "Writing for Games" and "Communicating With Mobile Technology."
One can certainly question a school's decision to fund a course on Twitter theory over its only advanced poetry workshop. But is it fair to question it at MIT, a school with a stated mission of "the advancement of knowledge and education of students in areas that contribute to or prosper in an environment of science and technology?" Ruppel thinks so:
Explore the origin of every noun you speak, and you will find a metaphor for something concrete, tangible, and otherwise inexpressible except by grunts and arm-flailing. Poetry, as long as man could string words together into longer, more involved metaphors and language-pictures, has been the remedy for our dumbness. Good poetry paints pictures of the previously inexpressible. It is not just a flowery literary form for men in tights and white-mustached monks, it's a useful tool for any young scientist who would someday like to communicate with the world outside her lab.
I think Ruppel is right. At the very least, a poetry class could help make MIT's yearly output of brilliant scientists and mathematicians better communicators and more well-rounded people. I would take her argument even further, though, and offer that poetry can also be a useful tool for a young scientist inside the lab.
I've spent some time in both the science and the poetry worlds, attending a science and technology high school, and focusing on biology for two years in college before I took to poetry. And while there are obvious fundamental differences between poetry and science, I think that the process of writing poetry has a great deal to offer the scientist.
Writing a poem not only requires the poet to be creative; it requires that she constantly subject that creativity to the pressure of analysis. Good poets learn to let alternating moments of creation and analysis lead them beyond the boundaries of their understanding. Couldn't scientists -- who engage in their own, more deliberate process of creativity and analysis -- benefit from experiencing poetry's far more concentrated creative process? More simply, wouldn't scientists benefit from learning how to better harness their creativity?
Einstein once said, "Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas." An MIT student should, at the very least, have the opportunity to take a class that will help her decide for herself what Einstein meant by that. And I seriously doubt she'd find that sort of wisdom in a Twitter class.