Today is Diane Ackerman's birthday. I first came to her work because I found one of her poems in an anthology that I was using in an English 102 class. It was a brilliant poem which combined scuba diving and sex and all sorts of underwater imagery. My students loved it, and so did I.
From there, I jumped to her prose. I'm one of the bazillion people who loved her book A Natural History of the Senses. Almost 10 years later, during a cold February morning, I read Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of my Garden and could hardly restrain myself from going outside to plunge my hands into the chilled earth. Ackerman is one of those writers who can talk lyrically about scientific subjects in a way that regular readers can understand.
I saw her read once at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. My parents lived in the area, and they were willing, so we all trouped down there. She read from Origami Bridges, and while I don't remember specific poems, I remember being enthralled. She did a great reading in a beautiful setting, and she was gracious with each person who waited in line for her to sign a copy of the book.
As far as I know, Ackerman is the only poet who has had a molecule named after her. I've always been interested in the intersections between poets and science, and I've been thinking about poets and the cosmos. But I've been thinking about the larger cosmos, the planets and galaxies that are out there. I'd love to discover a planet or a star. I never thought of aspiring to have a molecule named after me.
For those of you who need some inspiration, go here to read "The Work of the Poet Is to Name What Is Holy." The woman who posted it to the website even includes some writing prompts.
So, read some Diane Ackerman today. Read her non-fiction to remind yourself of what gorgeous language is possible when poets write prose. Read her poems to be inspired to use concrete imagery in your poems to talk about abstract ideas.
Or just honor Diane Ackerman's birthday by going through your day fully utilizing all your senses, in every setting.
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