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Mount Welcomes Jessica Reed as Meredith-Donovan Lecture Speaker

Katherine Stohlman Pieters, C'19

Featured speaker Jessica Reed, MFA, this week illuminated the poetry in science in presenting the annual Meredith-Donovan lecture in Laughlin Auditorium.

jessica-reed-1.pngAfter a welcome and a few opening remarks from Professor of English Sarah Scott, Ph.D., director of the Mount’s George Henry Miles Honors Program, Reed began her talk by reading a poem she wrote after visiting the underground Cave of the Crystals in Mexico. The cave had been sealed off from the rest of the world and outside of evolution for 2 million years.

Before reading “As the Knud Ramussen Glacier Calves, a Woman Translates ‘Gravitational Waves’ into Blackfoot,” Reed shared that the poem was sparked by the indigenous Canadian mother of a scientist friend of Reed’s who translated the press release on his work involving gravitational waves into her native Blackfoot. Reed was fascinated by the phrases the woman used to describe scientific terms that have no cognate in Blackfoot, and this fascination is reflected in the poem:

She renders the press release into disappearing language:
      “Light splitter and union of instruments” (speak, interferometer)
      “Self-strengthened lights exploding” (speak, gamma rays).
Such subtle “bird songs” are undone by gravitational waves,
we are compelled to fix their fugitive features.

She went on to read several more of her works for the audience, often including pictures for context, about everything from the second law of thermodynamics, to planting native grasses and flowers to renew prairie growth at her Indiana homestead, to waking up in the middle of the night to see thousands of lightning bugs in the field outside her bedroom window. In between readings, she shared more about her life and the stories, discoveries, and scientists who have inspired her work.

The evening ended with questions from the audience, and then a raffle of two of Reed’s books of poetry, sponsored by Carolyn Cook, Ph.D., a retired professor in the Mount’s School of Education and Reed’s mother-in-law.

Reed spent much of her life living in deserts in the southwestern United States but now lives in rural Indiana with her husband, where she homesteads and teaches creative writing at Butler University.

Reed earned her bachelor’s degree in physics and then pursued an MFA in poetry, both from Purdue University. She draws much of the inspiration for her poetry from her love of science and the natural world, including the various environments she’s lived in, and aims to capture the sense of wonder she feels when studying physics, ecology, and other forms of science, in words. Reed has been published in numerous magazines and journals, both scientific and literary, and is currently teaching a yearlong seminar she designed herself on the relationship between physics and the arts. Her chapbook, World, Composed (Finishing Line Press), was a finalist for the Etchings Press Whirling Prize.

Reed’s background in both the arts and science made her a fitting choice to give the Meredith-Donovan lecture. Sponsored by Raphael Della Ratta, C’92, and hosted by the Honors Program, the lecture series explores the differences and the overlap between sciences and humanities. It’s named in honor of Professor Emeritus of Biology William Meredith, Ph.D., who attended the talk on Wednesday, and the late Professor Emeritus John Donovan, Ph.D., who taught philosophy. The good friends both were beloved by their Mount students.

Katherine Stohlman Pieters, C'19