About the 2019 Reynolda Conference: Entanglements

A Conference on the Intersections of Poetry, Science, and the Arts

May 13-16, 2019

An initiative of the Entanglements Network

Baird, Matthew. “Joint States” (detail) 2018. Collage made with books. (Courtesy of the artist.)

Futurities and Archive   Schedule

The 2019 Reynolda Conference at Wake Forest University, Entanglements: A Conference on the Intersections of Poetry, Science, and the Arts brought together a diverse range of 10 featured poets, scientists, artists, and scholars from around the world whose work engages with transdisciplinary investigations into shared principles and methods in literature, science, and art. These featured presenters were joined by special guests, Wake Forest University panelists, visiting attendees, and the public for three days of innovative programming. All public conference activities took place at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art.

Distinguished, Featured Presenters

Click on each featured presenter’s name for a full profile with a biography and links to creative and scholarly work.

Will Alexander
Dr. Madhur Anand
Rae Armantrout
Amy Catanzano (Convener)
Andrew Joron
Eduardo Kac
Dr. Mark C. Kruse
Dr. Ming-Qian Ma
Ed Roberson
Dr. Gustavo A. Schwartz
Anne Waldman

Special Guests

Entanglements was pleased to include the following visitors as special guests:

Lee Ann Brown
ELÆ Lynne DeSilva-Johnson
Adam Dickinson
Satya Gontcho A Gontcho
Stephanie Strickland
Edwin Torres

Wake Forest University Panelists

Entanglements was pleased to include the following Wake Forest University faculty and staff members as panelists:

Lynn Book
Paul Bright
Dr. John Curley
Dr. Wayne Silver
Dr. Elizabeth A. Way


The 2019 Reynolda Conference at Wake Forest University, Entanglements: A Conference on the Intersections of Poetry, Science, and the Arts, brought together a diverse range of 10 leading poets, scientists, artists, and scholars from around the world whose work and/or teaching engages with transdisciplinary investigations into shared principles and methods in literature, science, and the arts. These featured presenters were joined by Wake Forest University faculty and staff presenters, special guests, visiting attendees, and the public for three days of innovative programming. Entanglements was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with an award granted to the conference convener, Amy Catanzano, by the Wake Forest University Humanities Institute and the Reynolda House Museum of American Art. Additional sponsors were the Wake Forest University Humanities Institute with a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Creative Writing Minor in the Department of English, and the Interdisciplinary Performance and the Liberal Arts Center (IPLACe) at Wake Forest University.

The Entanglements Network is named after the quantum mechanical phenomenon of entanglement in which states of subatomic particles are intertwined with each other despite being spatially separated.

The conference was uniquely organized as a National Endowment for the Humanities-style symposium combined with a literary and performing arts festival. During the daytime symposium, the 10 featured presenters, special guests, and Wake Forest University panelists presented in sessions exploring the conference’s themes. Two special evening literary readings and performances highlighted the featured presenters. All the events except those noted on the schedule were open to the entire university community and the public.

Throughout literary and artistic history there is a tradition of poets and artists rigorously engaging with science in their work. Similarly, there is a tradition of scientists rigorously engaging with art and literature. The featured presenters of Entanglements are interested in forging new ways to approach the fields in which they work by ambitiously moving outside of and between established categories, boundaries, and borders. By challenging assumptions about the ordinary limits of literature, art, and science and what they share or where they depart, the featured presenters of the conference think broadly and imaginatively about their subjects of study and creative and scholarly practices.

The themes examined included the historical, contemporary, and future intersections of literature, science, and art; collaborations between institutions and individuals across these disciplines; innovative pedagogy at these intersections; and publication, funding, and dissemination of ideas and projects. The primary questions to be engaged were: What innovative projects—art, artifacts, texts, songs, poems, performances, dialogues, theoretical frameworks, experiments, models, and intergenre inventions—are being done at the intersections of poetry, science, and art? What is possible at these intersections for the future? What pioneering projects have come before, and how have they been received? What theoretical, ethical, and practical problems arise when working at the intersections of literature, art, and science, and how can these problems be addressed? For those participants in teaching positions, what methods are being developed to teach at these transdisciplinary intersections?

Entanglements provided three days of innovative academic scholarship and creative practice. The public events provide the communities of Wake Forest University and the Triad area of North Carolina an enriched setting in which to explore the intersections of science, art, and literature.

In honor of Anne Waldman’s participation in Entanglements, the Reynolda House Museum of American Art at Wake Forest University displayed Jim Dine’s painting, “The World (for Anne Waldman),” from February through July 2019.

Major Funding:
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with an award granted to Amy Catanzano by the Wake Forest Humanities Institute and the Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Additional Sponsors:
Wake Forest University’s Humanities Institute with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Wake Forest University’s Creative Writing Minor in the Department of English

Wake Forest University’s Interdisciplinary Performance and the Liberal Arts Center (IPLACe)

See the announcement on the 2019 Reynolda Conference award here.

Visiting Attendees

In addition to Wake Forest University faculty, students, and staff as well as individuals from the public, Entanglements was pleased to welcome the following individuals as visiting attendees outside the Winston-Salem region:

Julia Burke, Randy Fertel, Nina Foster, Michael Gold, Terry Harpold, Alystyre JulianHeather Kresge, Kelly Krumrie, Bernhard Kuhn, Tori Larsen, Nathaniel Mackey, Cheryl Pallant, Nancy Piner, Mark Pizzato, Jessica ReedEJ Shu (Conference Collaborator), Judy Upjohn, Quincy Whitney, and others.

Thank You

The conference convener thanks the following individuals at Wake Forest University, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, and elsewhere for providing organizational, administrative, leadership, funding, and/or special support for the conference:

Phil Archer, Maddie Baxter (Conference Coordinator), Lisa Blee, ELÆ (Lynne DeSilva-Johnson), Dean Franco, Cynthia Gendrich, Michele Gillespie, Kim Hampton, Rogan Kersh, Aimee Mepham, Allison Perkins, Jessica Richard, Natalie Scarritt, Kimberly Scholl, EJ Shu (Conference Collaborator), Christina Soriano, Eric Stottlemyer, Anna Willis, Eric G. Wilson, Leigh Anne Wray, and Christopher Yon.

About the Reynolda Conference

The Reynolda Conference, awarded by the Humanities Institute at Wake Forest University, is funded by a grant for Engaged Humanities from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Reynolda Conference competitive grant offers faculty $20,000 to hold a three- to five-day seminar on a humanities topic of their choice. The grant award supports travel, lodging, and stipends for invited scholars of the conference planner’s choosing, as well as stipends for participating Wake Forest University and Triad area scholars.

To learn more about the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s support for the humanities at Wake Forest, click here.

Introduction to the Intersections of Poetry, Science, and the Arts

By Amy Catanzano

Throughout literary and artistic history, writers and artists have ambitiously taken on science as their subject. In the sixteenth century, Margaret Cavendish wrote prescient poems on the atom and a proto-science fiction novel, The Blazing World, which imagined what could now be considered the multiverse, where our universe in one of a wilderness of universes; the multiverse is one model for the structure of matter in theoretical physics today. In the eighteenth century, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe explored pattern formation in nature through both literary and scientific contexts. In the nineteenth century, Edgar Allan Poe in Eureka speculatively explored cosmology. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Alfred Jarry developed ’pataphysics, an artistic theory and anti-ideological “science of imaginary solutions.” In the twentieth century, poets who addressed science in relation to poetry and poetics include T.S. Eliot and A.R. Ammons. Bern Porter, a poet whose early work as a physicist contributed to the Manhattan Project and was later known for being anti-war and anti-bomb, developed a poetics known as Sciart, which joins “science” and “art” in a neologism.

Contemporary poets and artists who significantly engage with science include the internationally celebrated poet, performer, cultural critic, and curator Anne Waldman, whose multidimensional, epic poetic project of radical political resistance and alternative dimension draws as purposefully from science as from the imagination and other charged environments of creation and flux. Rae Armantrout, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, has over 60 poems that explore some aspect of physics. Ed Roberson, with a scientific background, often draws from science in conjunction with both the concerns of African-American poetics, which explores poetry in relation to critical race theory and African-American culture, and ecopoetics, which explores poetry in relation to nature, ecology, and environmental concerns. Eduardo Kac and Christian Bök practice transgenic and bio poetry, which synthesizes DNA according to invented codes by using combinations of nucleotides that lead to the making of language. Adam Dickinson has invented metabolic poetics to explore the pollutants he has in his own microbiome; here, poetry collides with science, environmentalism, and autobiography.

Poets Will Alexander, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, and Andrew Joron, going beyond contemporaries who occasionally reference science in their poetry, robustly position scientific concepts, vocabulary, and breakthroughs in their poetry and poetics. S.S. Prasad explores the intersections of poetry, science, and technology by integrating nano-dimensions onto text using silicon chips, a process inspired by the scientist Ghim Wei Ho, who works on silicon nanostructures through photomicrographs she calls “nanoflowers.” Prasad wrote a code inside the microchips that replaces the numbers with words using “scrapspace,” creating “poems” that are byproducts of the chip design.

Additional contemporary authors and artists whose creative work has significantly engaged with science include Tauba Auerbach, Gary Barwin, Samiya Bashir, Bruce Beasley, Laynie Brown, John Cayley, Heather Christle, Adam Cornford, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Jennifer K. Dick, Marcella Durand, Jonathan Feldschuh, Spencer Finch, Allen Fisher, Alice Fulton, Forrest Gander, Kim Goldberg, Sarah Howe, Ken Hunt, A. Van Jordan, Michael Leong, Jeanne Liotta, Sara Morawetz, Laura Moriarty, Andrew McEwan, Nick Monfort, Jena Osman, M. NourbeSe Philip, Bin Ramke, Evelyn Reilly, Brandi Reissenweber, Joan Retallack, Margaret Rhee, Pattiann Rogers, Brenda Shaughnessy, Sun Yung Shin, Tracy K. Smith, Stephanie Strickland, Daniel Tobin, Lorraine Walsh, Shanxing Wang, Christine Wertheim, Eric Zboya, and Lila Zemborain.

Literary scholars and creative practitioners also work with science at the scale of theory and criticism. Theorist N. Katherine Hayles explores the relationship of technology, science, and literature in the contexts of neuroscience, complexity, and posthumanism. Hayles co-taught a transdisciplinary course, “Science Fiction, Science Fact,” at Duke University with physicist Mark C. Kruse, whose research is in the analysis of data collected by the ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland. Scholar Ming-Qian Ma concentrates on modernist and postmodernist poetry and poetics in relation to philosophy, science, and arts with a particular interest in the exploratory, the speculative, and the experimental trajectories in these fields as mutually interrelated dynamics. Peter Middleton, in Physics Envy (2016), discusses poets such as Rae Armantrout, Charles Olson, Amiri Baraka, and others whose work engages with science and social science. Scott Weintraub’s Latin American Technopoetics: Scientific Explorations in New Media (2018) analyzes digital poetry and intermedia works by Eduardo Kac, Gustavo Romano, Santiago Ortiz, Loss Pequeño Glazier, and others influenced by science. In Kac’s Space Poetics, where he has put a poem and art object into space on the International Space Station in collaboration with the astronaut Thomas Pesquet, poetry and art are theorized and practiced in conjunction with astronomy and space exploration.

Just as there is a tradition of poets, artists, scholars, and theorists working with science, there is a tradition of scientists who substantially engage with literature and art. In the sixteenth century, when the divide between the disciplines of art, science, and philosophy was not as pronounced, Leonardo da Vinci combined his work as a scientist, artist, philosopher, and inventor. In the nineteenth century, Ernst Haeckel is known for intricately drawing the miniscule sea creatures he studied as a biologist, producing a collection of detailed artworks collected in Art Forms of Nature (1899). In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, neuroanatomist Santiago Ramón y Cajal made captivating drawings of the human brain. In the twentieth century, Werner Heisenberg, co-founder of quantum theory, discusses Goethe’s play, Faust, in his book, Physics and Philosophy (1958), in direct relation to questions about language, poetry, and reality within the context of quantum physics. Some contemporary scientists are also accomplished writers, combining imaginative writing and their backgrounds in science within a unique praxis. Ecologist Madhur Anand, whose research includes human-ecological modeling, complex systems, conservation ecology, and sustainable science, is a published poet. Physicist Juan José Gómez-Cadenas, who focuses on particle and astroparticle physics, neutrino physics, and nuclear instrumentation, is a published novelist and poet.

The occasion of Entanglements is set to happen within the groundbreaking and expanding field of transdisciplinary discourse, programming, and collaboration. Renowned physics research centers such as CERN have dedicated arts programs. At the Donostia International Physics Center in Spain, scientist and short fiction writer Gustavo A. Schwartz directs the Mestizajes Programme, which explores the relationship of literature, art, and science through directed programming, conferences, guest artist and writer programs, and international publications that bring together scientists, artists, and writers. Along with literary scholar Víctor E. Bermúdez, Schwartz edited #Nodos (2017), an international anthology on the relationship of science, art, and literature. Academic organizations such as the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts support scholarship and creative practice on the relationship of these disciplines. It is common for universities in the United States and beyond to offer programming and degrees at undergraduate and graduate levels across disciplines, methodologies, discourses, and practices. While humanities, literature, and arts programs and institutions are increasingly friendly to collaborations with the natural sciences, it is most often science-based programs and institutions leading the way in supporting this transdisciplinary work through dedicated programming, funding, and administrative structures. Over the past ten years or so, the term STEAM, which is now largely known as representing the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics, was developed to supplement and challenge the term STEM, which does not include art.

The transdisciplinary intersections of science, art, and literature impact human culture at all scales. The benefits of these investigations for teaching and scholarship in the arts, humanities, and the natural sciences include greater innovation and more effective collaborations in each discipline; increased opportunities to find solutions to shared and discipline-specific problems; and a more sophisticated education for new generations of scientists, artists, and writers who will be trained in the value and methods of transdisciplinary discourse and practice.

Art and literature can inspire scientists to ask new questions that are informed by artistic and poetic thinking. Art and literature can help guide the ethics of science and respond to and critique how scientific discoveries are developed and used by commercial interests and governments. Science can inspire the making, interpretation, and subjects of literature and art so that those working within these disciplines are better poised to innovate by having more expansive views. In the world today, where scientific discoveries can be used to build weapons of mass destruction, where art and literature are vital but marginalized sites of creative and critical inquiry, and where science, art, and literature are all attacked by a U.S. White House that works to delegitimize science and cut funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts, those working at the intersections of these disciplines are seeking out effective ways to collaborate, envisioning new possibilities, and providing advocacy for one another. One aim of Entanglements: A Conference on the Intersections of Poetry, Science, and the Arts will be to contribute to and help lead such efforts.












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