*** DEBUG END ***

Science Waste Land

11 July 2014

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


Involution: An odyssey reconciling science to God
P. A. Rees
CollaborArt Books £17.99
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.

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

26 September 2022
What am I living for? God
Sam Wells and Lucy Winkett begin the St Martin-in-the-Fields autumn lecture series in partnership with Church Times.

27-28 September 2022
humbler church Bigger God conference
The HeartEdge Conference in Manchester includes the Theology Slam Live Final.

More events

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)