Quantum Poetics

by Gerry LaFemina

Atomic Structures
If a word is an atom and a line is molecule, then the poem is a compound. Change any item in any given line and you alter, in some way, the molecule/compound. Even if the alteration is minor, such as replacing that article a with the, we change the compound slightly just as replacing a Hydrogen atom (H) with a positive ion, H+ changes the molecule and compound.

String Theory
What are strings if not lines? Every poem is a lesson in strings, every poetics a string theory.

The theory of a multiverse suggests the possibility of multiple universes. Consider: every decision opens up another alternate universe in which the other choice co-exists. Consider: each revision we make creates a new version of the poem, while maintaining the original, if only in the memory of the writer (though, if you’re like me, you hold on to every draft).

Furthermore, linear theory suggests every change in the line alters the entire universe of the poem.

Gravity, or gravitation, is a natural phenomenon by which all things with mass are brought toward (or gravitate toward) one another. In poetry, perhaps, that might refer to images, those physical presences in the poem. Images provide, metaphorically, mass and the best images bring a sense of emotional depth—call it gravitas, if you like—to the poem. Often the image attracts an emotional response, or as Dennis Haskell has described the Deep Image technique, images engage the “rational manipulation of irrational materials”: by irrational, we mean non-intellectual, such as emotional or unconscious material.

Theory of Special Relativity
E=MC2 . If we consider energy as the emotional potential of the poem, we can posit the speed of light as the speed of the line, or the rhythm of the poem. Mass, of course, is the imagery, those things that bring matter into the poem (see gravity above). The best poems have emotional energy—in the form of relevance to the reader—generated by the rhythm and imagery of the poem, how it creates a contextual connection between poem and reader.

Super Symmetry
In physics, there’s a desire for balance in the universe: for every boson there must be a fermion and vice versa. If we take Aristotle’s sense that metaphor is the most important skill of the poet, that capacity to find a balance between two very disparate things via analogy, then we are looking for a kind of leap that generates energy. The leap has to be between symmetrical (i.e., relevant) and equally powerful or surprising attributes.

Bosons, fermions… of all the sub atomic particles, the quark is the elementary particle which is the building block of matter. In the poem, we can consider it any non-syllabic sound that in combination creates a syllable: the building block of the oral/aural aspect of language.

Dark Energy
The universe, we are told, is composed of roughly 68% dark energy. It can’t be seen or measured; it’s really, in many ways, unfathomable, but physics—the math—tell us it must exist. It’s in the space between the stars and planetary bodies and the various matter of the cosmos. There is a dark energy of poetry, too, in what is unsaid in a poem, what might be inferred or brought to the poem by the reader’s schema. Some poems fail, after all, for they say too much.

Black Holes
One might think, here, that I’m going to discuss the fear of failure, that emotional suck from which no light seems to escape. But no. Every galaxy it seems has a super massive black hole at its center around which that galaxy revolves. Consider Lorca’s sense of duende, the life force of our best poems, that gives art its life. Let duende be the black hole around which the galaxy of our poems swirls.

Big Bang
Let’s just call it “inspiration”: the moment when tip of pen(cil) first touches paper (or, if you prefer, the first blink of the cursor when the word processor first boots).

The Invention of Heavy Metals
The heavier elements are a result of the fusion reactions in the first stars and followed by what happened when they eventually went nova. The first stars were reactors of hydrogen and helium in their furnaces; atoms came together so that hydrogen and helium became carbon. When these suns began to burn out carbon, helium, and hydrogen atoms fused to form oxygen through iron. Then the stars went nova and their explosions spread the elements iron through uranium across the universe.

Our earliest poems are those early stars. As we write more, we grow as writers, we see the failures and shortcomings in this work until they vanish, replaced by stronger material, heavier metals, our strengths and skills honed, our use of technique more effective. Those are the heavier elements made from the explosion of our work, the fusion reactor of our poems, in which we combine various elements of craft.

Inertia, momentum, and friction
The line in poetry, its rhythm (both in traditional verse and free verse), is the source of momentum. Assuming the line had no break (ala the paragraph) we can say that it would be subject to inertia: it would go and go. Friction is the force of the line break and caesura on the poetic line.

M Theory
“According to Witten, M should stand for ‘magic,’ ‘mystery,’ or ‘membrane.’” The poem is a multidimensional membrane, giving, elastic, but finite. The best ones are full of mystery and magic; they are enigmatic and revelatory.

Some items can be seen as having contradictory and mutually exclusive properties: light, for example, is simultaneously a particle and a wave. The poem exists this way: both visual and aural (oral), both line and sentence, and (see above) enigma and revelation.

In physics entropy works as a measure of the disorder of a system and its constituent molecules. Every poem ought to have a little entropy, a frictional force disordering and energizing the constituent parts (consider the sonnets of Hopkins, how they explode the form, the rhymes of Dickinson, a good trochaic inversion in blank verse). Managing entropy is a way of creating formal energy.

God Particles
In the end, we’re talking about poems. They’re chock full of god particles.