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Science Waste Land

by
11 July 2014

Martyn Halsall finds a poem, 45 years in the making, opaque

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Involution: An odyssey reconciling science to God
P. A. Rees
CollaborArt Books £17.99
(978-0-9575002-0-4)
Church Times Bookshop £16.20 (Use code CT954 )

INVOLUTION is an epic exploration of scientific thought in poetic form, for theological resolution. In her "odyssey", Philippa Rees re-examines evolution, as "reconciling science to God". Memory is key: "it is the enfolding and recovery of memory that this book descends inwards (and therefore upwards) to expose." Such sentences illustrate communication as her major problem.

It remains difficult, despite determined reading, to know what Rees's version of "involution" means. The Oxford English Dictionary's definition, "the process or state of complication", can here be accusatory. Her encyclopaedic reading of science and philosophy lacks resolution. Connections between "god" (in various incarnations) and science remain opaque. The poetry begs and borrows various styles, but lacks consistent music.

This appears to be Rees's Waste Land: statistically impressive, but lacking T. S. Eliot's linguistic power, or direction. It has occupied her for almost 45 years. Nine "cantos" form her 239-page poem, supported by 153 pages of footnotes. The poetry follows a history of scientific and philosophical thought, compendious as a reference library. Rees says that it "is to be read at a gallop".

Involution began as a scientific paper and became a poem after her theory's "utter rejection" by the scientific community. Publishers turned down the translation of her initial monograph into a book. None of the 50 "top scientists" to whom she posted copies replied. Involution is a courageous response, but also a passport to poetic exile. Occasional lines intrigue and sing, and perhaps it is from those that new maps through this wasteland might emerge.

Dr Martyn Halsall is poetry editor of Third Way.

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