Sep 122012

Poetry here from Irish author Gerard Beirne who attacks the notional divide between science and art head on and makes rhymes out of sines and cosines and the nature of colloidal suspensions. In ancient times Pythagoras theorized upon the nature of music and mathematics without making a distinction between the two. It is only in our day (and mostly in the popular imagination) that science, mathematics and art have drifted into a strange opposition. Perhaps it is only an ill-educated assumption that science is not beautiful. In any case, Gerard Beirne, in his new book Games of Chance: A Gambler’s Manual (Oberon Press) from which these poems are taken, makes poetry out of science and science out of poetry. And sometimes he uses science as a luminous metaphor for the spirit. Of circles and squares, he writes:

The relation of X’s to Y’s
the hows and whys
of the pleasure derived
from being true to themselves
or from pushing
………………… their boundaries




Properties of Solutions: The Colloidal State

Take atoms, molecules
assume their use theoretically
if not practically
believe in them (or not)
if you will.

Accept (for now) that this
is elementary theory
to avoid a state of confusion.

Focus on colloidal dispersion
the scattering of light (for instance)
by particles of dust
in the path of a sunbeam
through a partly opened door
(call this the Tyndell effect).

Take these small sparkling specks
(these giant steps)
and follow these points of reflected light
observe the constant random motion
(name it Brownian movement).

Publish if you must
a mathematical analysis
of nonuniform random collisions
caused by the unequal number of molecules
colliding on either side.

(Answer if you dare
to the name of Einstein

or Perrin if you prefer
a Nobel Prize.)

Verify experimentally
remove the last doubts surrounding
atoms and molecules, offer
the proof of your own existence

(act surprised)

the notion of its constant
random motion
the human condition.

Believe in it (or not)
if you will

(but accept for now
that this is still



The Pressure of Gases - kinetic molecular theory

Torricelli immersed
at the bottom of a sea
of elemental air
considers the existence of a vacuum

(a space repugnant to nature
and philosophers
who advocate resistance)

but Torricelli bearing up
under the oppressing weight of hot air
fills a tube of glass
a dish with mercury
inverts the tube within
observes the empty space which forms

a place where nothing
(natural) he believes
can be contained

(unawares of molecules
of mercury vapour
ascending upwards)

a vacuous state of being
devoid of God or life

(at least on paper)

light-headed (and swimming
beneath the surface)
Torricelli endeavours
(and succeeds) to measure
the pressure of the atmosphere

like some exotic fish
he gauges the rise and fall
within the tube
floats easily amongst it all

the internal and external forces
rarefaction and density

(Torricelli breathing
at the bottom of the sea)

where all and nothing happens
an emptiness filled
with relentless intensity

Torricelli (like others
before him) sees mankind
struggling to its knees
in the lower regions
of the atmosphere

(quicksilver rising in a tube of glass)

a place cohabited with animals
meek and wild

while on the peaks of mountains high
closer to the heavens and the sky
(where prayers come to pass)
the air is pure and light
and finally measurable

the next step (unimaginable)
surely flight?



After this
………….I lead you into form

triangle, rhombus, square, helix
circle, rectangle, ellipse

and from there
………………….to their equations

their defining features.

The relation of X’s to Y’s
the hows and whys
of the pleasure derived
from being true to themselves
or from pushing
………………… their boundaries

a circle stretched into an ellipse
a rhombus pressed into a square

but erstwhile
……………….there is the line

(like light concise
taking the least journey
…………………………….between points
adhering to Fermat’s Principle of Least Time
“nature always acts by the shortest course”).

Archimedes, Appolonius of Perga,
Euclid, Pappus of Alexandria

awaiting fourteen centuries more
to extend the shape of their knowledge

Gerard D. Desargues,
Blaise Pascal, Rene Descartes

mathematicians defining concepts
………………………………… words
simple sounds
intricate with meaning

tangent, locus, vertex,
asymptote, focus, directrix,

the complexity
of geometrical theory.

Beyond this
………………..images and symbols

points aligned in space
specified by their coordinates
outlining inordinate quantities
of thought

and out of all of this a purpose
beyond the rapture of near perfection
an application?

The parabolic surfaces
of reflector lights, say
showing the way
or antenna in radio astronomy
solar furnaces
ballistic calculations

shots fired in the dark

satellites orbiting the earth
above the critical speed
needed to remain aloft
and hark
…………….transmitters locating ships.

But which from which

the bullet or the ellipse
the form or its intent?

Or by necessity
………………….both together
creating their own trajectory

forces never spent.


— Gerard Beirne


Gerard Beirne is an Irish writer who moved to Norway House, a Cree community in Northern Manitoba, in 1999 where he lived for three years. While living there, he interviewed Elders in the community and edited for publication an anthology of those interviews. He received an MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University and is a past recipient of The Sunday Tribune/Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year award. He was appointed Writer-in-Residence at the University of New Brunswick 2008-2009 and is a Fiction Editor with The Fiddlehead.

His novel The Eskimo in the Net (Marion Boyars Publishers, London, 2003) was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award 2004 for the best book of Irish fiction and was selected as Book of the Year 2004 by The Daily Express. His most recent novel Turtle was published by Oberon Press, 2009.

His short story “Sightings of Bono” was adapted into a short film featuring Bono (U2) by Parallel Productions, Ireland in 2001 and released on DVD in 2004.

His poetry collection Games of Chance: A Gambler’s Manual has just been published by Oberon Press- Fall 2011. His collection of poetry Digging My Own Grave was published by Dedalus Press, Dublin. An earlier version won second place in the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award.

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