What Inspired My Most Recent Poem

Well, the world sure is a damn mess…

Tanking economies, inflation, war…And I’ve got this sinking feeling it’s all going to get worse before it gets better. Here’s wishing we all live in more boring times soon. I’ve had just about enough of this “living in interesting times” garbage!

Anyway…what better time to escape, right? Escape into books, escape into movies, escape into Podcasts, escape into travel… And just…unplug. Well, I can’t offer any of those, so how about a little escape into poetry? Sound good? Alright! Let’s go!

I’ve been asked “Where do you get your ideas from?” Well, here is the inspiration behind my latest published poem.

In the Dose
In the Dose” recently appeared in Radon Journal. This poem came to me rather quickly, but went through substantial edits before it was finished. It ended up in Radon which is a “Transhumanist” publication, which means, as I understand it, concerned with human potentiality reaching its full limit. While that’s not exactly what I had in mind  when I wrote this piece, I could see how it appealed to the editors over there. And I’m glad it, because they’re a cool, new publication and really worked with me to make sure this piece became the best it could be. So please check them out!

In reality, the inspiration for this poem was more prosaic. It began fairly recently when I read the last part of the chapter of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. (Which is really a great poem, by the way). That poetic section where he’s sitting by a river bank and imagining all the invisible (evolutionary) forces working around him in real-time to create more spectacular lifeforms, made we want to write a poem about evolution. Because…who had done that before?

So, I filed that away. Then I recalled something I had read about Paracelsus, the 16th century alchemist, doctor and all-round cool dude. His most famous saying was that “poison is in the dose” meaning that how much you give a patient of a drug is vital. Give too little, and it will have no effect. Give too much and you will harm (or even kill) them. I always thought this was an interesting idea: the idea that almost anything could “become” a poison if you had too much of it. And this was recently given more impetus when I heard about a fatality resulting from a “water drinking contest.” (Look up “water intoxication” if you don’t believe this one!) That’s right! Even water, IN THE RIGHT DOSE, can kill you!

I’ve also spent a good amount of time lately thinking about high-radiation environments. These environments have the potential to “accelerate” evolution. (This is because radiation creates mutations in the genetic code). But the key is, again, that the “poison is in the dose”: ramp up radiation too high, and you get rampant mutations (and their usual negative health effects) and that species or individual will perish.

So, I wanted to combine radiation (specifically gamma rays) with this idea of the right dose. But there was a missing piece: So what? So what that radiation had driven evolution? So what? Well, the “so what” to me was this: Radiation had driven the rise of consciousness. And that, to me, was an astounding mechanism!

Finally, there was one of my favorite thinkers, William James, the American philosopher. I remember one of his passages in which he wrote about humanity representing the universe’s own self-consciousness. A sort of brain for the whole universe. That is, humanity being a form of mute matter that can achieve thought.

I combined all these things, had that “Aha!” moment and immediately to wrote down the first stanza:

A lonely atom annihilates itself,
driven by strange compulsions for unity.
Radiation bursts from the sun’s surface.

The rest fell into place soon after that. I polished it, polished it some more, and it was ready to submit.

And that’s the story of what inspired this piece. I hope you enjoy it and share with a friend. Thanks!


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