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Constance Alexander: New poetry book ‘Chance Divine’ shows how the arts and science coalesce

Talk about STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) all you want, but without poetry, their mysteries and metaphors might be inaccessible to most of us.

Take Kentucky poet Jeff Skinner’s newest book, for example. “Chance Divine” was inspired by particle physics, its visions and images the result of Skinner’s stint as Artist in Residence at the CERN Particle Accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland.

CERN’s Arts and Science program fosters dialogue between prominent scientists and visionary artists. Since 2011, the program has developed a network of partnerships through four artist residencies each year, “bringing together the worlds of science and art to inspire each other in new creative expressions,” according to Charlotte Warakaulle, Director for International Relations at CERN.

The opening epigraph of “Chance Divine,” describes the intersection of art and science in one short quote from the Swiss writer Robert Walser: “Everything dreamed because it was alive, and everything lived because it was permitted to dream.”

From there, Skinner catapults the reader into Genesis, starting with an “explosive thought” that mingles time with energy, a space he describes as “Roomy but lonely.”

The poems march through “Genesis” into a section entitled “Alien Valley,” and then ending with a section Skinner titled “Revelation.”

Like the funnel cloud contained in a corked bottle on the book’s cover, the poems swirl in a vortex of physics, philosophy, and religion, to plunge with painful precision into one uncomfortable truth after another.

In “Full Size Rendering,” for instance, once a map is unfolded, “you know there is no place for death to hide in these words.”

The poem entitled “So Say We All,” blurts out an uncomfortable truth: “Dying’s not rocket science…”

Perhaps inspired by the music of contemporary composer Arvo Part, “Tintinnabula” delves into high level computation, a universe where “one and & one makes/ One: triangular, three-cornered sound/ Time never breaks the measure/ The machine cannot turn back.”

Water gives life to many of the poems in “Chance Divine.” Early in “Genesis” is a reference to sound waves and “nets filled with so many fish the men strained and the nets tore, and as they sailed home the men were filled with silent joy.”

The last section begins with a declaration: “Under sky I found a rock, under a rock I found Iran.” The litany continues past an amusement park, Jutes, Angles, Katherine Hepburn in “Philadelphia Story” Tarzan and Mowgli, plunging downward through poetry and into the divine word, Logos.

One reviewer, Vijay Seshadri, described the collection of poems as “an ocean of language,” which makes Skinner the vigilant lifeguard, always on duty.

“Chance Divine” is full immersion, a baptism of water, fire and desire. In the end, we want to join the poet “…under a raw white moon…deep into this very night.”

On his website, Jeffrey Skinner identifies himself as a poet, playwright, and eschatologist, concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of human kind. He wrestles brilliantly with all of these angels in “Chance Divine.”

For more information, go to jeffreyskinner.net.


Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray, Ky. She can be reached at Calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit her website.

Read all posts by Constance Alexander on KyForward

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