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Research Statement for EJ Shu's Folio of Creative Work

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posted on 30.09.2021, 06:15 by EJ ShuEJ Shu
Background: Recent experiments in the poetry of science—e.g. Amy Catanzano’s work with quantum theory; Madhur Anand’s writings on ecologies; and Rae Armantrout’s exposition on physics—reveal both the possibilities and perils of the field. Possibilities, because poetry can distil complex scientific ideas into evocative forms; and perils, because the role of factuality in such poetry remains undefined. In recent years, I have used poetry to investigate how the discourse of scientific research can produce an uncanny quality while aiming to make the world more graspable. This folio of poems from 2020 specifically illuminates how the precise language of empiricism can sometimes lead to a sense of estrangement—a sense of reaching out with language but making little headway towards knowledge.

Contribution: Both poems in this folio appropriate found text to foreground the slipperiness of observational language. I wrote the poem ‘Fields elicit’ by combining original creative material with quotations from a scientific research paper on the behaviour of spiders. This strategy enabled me to remain faithful to the paper’s content while also using disruptive syntax to characterise the production of scientific knowledge as a kind of textual performance. I produced the illness-narrative poem ‘Machine translated’ using AI-translated testimonies of viral sickness and recovery that had been published as part of consumer product reviews. The uncanny parlance of the translation software enabled me to evoke the estrangement of viral infection and the ways in which language is subject to distortions by the body.

Significance: ‘Fields elicit’ was competitively selected by award-winning poet and guest editor for Rabbit, Tricia Dearborn, from a pool of more than 1000 poem submissions for the issue. ‘Machine translated’ first appeared in the journal TEXT and was anthologised in a print version of The Incompleteness Book, published by Recent Work Press (2020).