Poetry and Science

For the past several days I've been dedicating a good amount of time to the work of Manuel Alcántara, a poet and essayist from Málaga. His work will be featured in the upcoming issue of Sirena. Last night I was translating one of his newspaper columns in which he makes a remarkably simple yet astute and eloquently expressed observation regarding our world. He says, "the whole world is home (patria), beyond the flags that mark dominions and the boundaries that stitch together territories." Alcántara's context is a brief reflection on the occasion of Earth Day, 1990. His concerns are most familiar: parochial and selfish interests threaten our future; our survival as a species (as well as that of all other species!) depends on cooperation. His use of the word patria is most significant: it's a term associated with national identification, but is also frequently used in the expression patria chica to indicate the importance of local identities. Alcántara is reminding his readers that we've got it all wrong, of course: the only true home, in a geological sense, the one that counts, is Earth.
This morning I was reading in the New York Review of Books a review of Rewilding the World by Caroline Fraser. Contemporary conservation science makes the same point as Alcántara: creating islands doesn't work. We need connectivity. (Do we ever!) The reviewer, John Terborgh, offers this quote from the book: "We are realizing that conservation is not about managing wildlife as much as it is about managing ourselves–our appetites, expectations, fears, our fundamental avariciousness." Well, the same can no doubt be said of art: it's about managing ourselves, although most would say art is about understanding ourselves. And I'd say that to understand, to truly understand, is to manage. Donne's Meditation XVII, where you will find his famously quoted lines "No man is an island..." makes a similar point within a Christian context.

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