Mixing art with science

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By Kirsten Laskey

A Renaissance man or woman is a person who has broad intellectual interests and is accomplished in areas of both the arts and the sciences; a highly cultivated individual who is skilled and well-versed in many fields of knowledge, work, etc., as in the arts and sciences.

Two poets, B.A. Wingate and Mary Cisper, who will be featured in the upcoming Author Speaks series at 7 p.m. Thursday at Mesa Public Library’s upstairs rotunda, exemplify the definition of a Renaissance person.

Cisper said they are both planning to read from their work and discuss what inspires their poetry.

She added she is happy to share her work with the community in the Author Speaks series. “I feel very honored to be invited,” she said. “I’ve attended other readings there and enjoyed them very much.”

Wingate added, “Mary and I write poetry that is sympathetic to each other. It is often informed by the landscape or sense of place. (Our work) is existentially different … I am expecting to enjoy reading poems with her.”   

Cisper and Wingate are scientists who have had long careers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and both are published poets.

Cisper is also an artist. There is an old adage in visual arts that form follows function and the same may be true for poetry. Writing poems requires the effort to make the ineffable comprehensible by finding the perfect form – the perfect word, rhythm, syntax.

Perhaps the scientific method informs the intellectual exploration of subject matter and form while emotion and spirit inspire, blending to make the complete package or simply, a poem.

Cisper said while she has spoken in public before, this will be the first time she has shared the podium with another writer. She said, she is “hoping that my poetry engages people. I’m hopeful and excited about sharing it.”

Cisper and Wingate are engaged in multiple endeavors in their lives.

Wingate was born in Lorain, Ohio and graduated with a Ph.D. in atmospheric science and scientific computing from the University of Michigan in 1996.

She is currently a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory where she is a member of the Climate, Ocean and Sea Ice Modeling team and the Center for Nonlinear Studies.

Her poetry has, or will soon appear, in Natural Bridge, The Iowa Review, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Rose and Thorn and in several anthologies, the most recent published by Old School Books, “Looking back to Place” (2008).

She may be a scientist but she has a long history of writing poetry. Wingate has written since she was age 10. She said her writing has “run the gauntlet” from being sophomoric to maturing as she has grown up.

Her career has also influenced her work and vice versa. “Working as a scientist and as a writer, I’ve gotten a lot of good ideas from both,” she said.

Cisper is a poet and artist living in Pojoaque. Although she had a 12-year career as a research chemist, her first love is literature.

She has a degree in English from Northwestern University.  In 2000, she enrolled in a UNM-LA creative writing class where she met Los Alamos teacher-poet, Jane Lin.

Cisper said she has written poetry since she was a child but her career moved her into the sciences.  By taking the UNM-LA and returning to poetry, Cisper said her writing has developed.

“I think it’s developed a lot,” she said. “I’ve gone to other workshops, I’ve studied with other people … I think I’ve gotten much more aware of contemporary poetry and what’s being published today, (and I’m) much more aware of technique and craft.”

Even her career as a chemist helped influence her writing. “My science background enters into my poetry because I’m just curious about the world,” Cisper said.

This year she also completed a documentary (shown on local public access television) that celebrated non-poets reading a poem aloud. She is most interested in the ways in which art is a tool for exploring and expanding awareness.

Her poems have been or will be published in Natural Bridge, Borderlands, Confrontation, Sow’s Ear, Santa Fe Literary Review, Terrain (on-line) and in the Harwood Art Center anthology, “Looking Back to Place.”  She is currently working on a book-length manuscript.

Writing poetry, Cisper explained, is an enjoyable experience for her because “it’s a way for me to explore how I feel, explore my relationship to the world.” The Authors Speak Series is funded by the Friends of Mesa Public Library.