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Field Work: Aligning Poetry & Science


Field Work: Aligning Poetry and Science is a three-year program aiming to foster STEM learning through poetry. Together with natural history museums and libraries in Salt Lake City and Milwaukee, Poets House will explore the benefits of aligning poetic and scientific thinking for increased understanding of the world around us, creating new interdisciplinary learning models.

Poets House’s Field Work partners in Milwaukee are the Milwaukee Public Library and the Milwaukee Public Museum, and in Salt Lake City, the Salt Lake City Public Library and Natural History Museum of Utah. Both host cities will engage audiences in interactive programs that render the language of science accessible through collaborative language arts experiments. Poets-in-residence for each city will assist in team-building, program development, and the creation of experiential science/poetry paths. These new paths in each city will feature poetry signage as well as related scientific information. Each will be accompanied by a digital app for self-guided tours.


“Poetry deepens and enriches the concepts of science, bringing emotional and psychological resonance to facts…Poetry fosters reflection and empathy, thereby exploring the ethical dimensions of science and technology.”

–Alison Deming, Milwaukee Field Work Poet-in-Residence


Public programs in each city include science-based nature walks with poets and science educators, observation-based writing workshops, and place-based mapping and field research combining poetic and scientific thinking. Dozens of public events for all ages will help build new paths to science through creative use of language.

NewKnowledge, the social science research organization, will analyze the program’s collaborative process to assist in devising replicable models for other cities working toward social change through science learning.


Field Work in Milwaukee

Milwaukee Field Work logo

Programming in Milwaukee began in fall 2018, with all 14 branches of the Milwaukee Public Library hosting Urban Wildlife workshops for children, who will learn about animals native to the Milwaukee area and write poems about them. The Milwaukee Public Museum’s adult programming launched in February 2019 with The Botany of Beverages, an exploration of the tastes, science, and poetry of beer and other drinks, a teen poetry contest, concert, poetry walks, and Urban Wildlife workshops, plus an event to celebrate the opening of the poetry path in Spring 2019.

See Milwaukee’s Field Work page for more information and a list of upcoming events.


Field Work in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City Field Work logo

In Salt Lake City, Field Work programming began in September 2018 at NHMU with a three-part series, part of Science Café:

  • Paleontologist Randy Irmis and archaeologist Shannon Boomgarden in dialogue with poets Michael Sowder and Paisley Rekdal (9/19);
  • Entomologist Christy Bills and mammologist Eric Rickart in conversation with poets Lance Larsen and Kimberly Johnson (10/24);
  • A reading at SLCPL by poets Alison Deming, Katharine Coles, and Paisley Rekdal (12/5).

The poet-scientist pairings continued in April 2019:

  • Native Sustenance with anthropologist Lisbeth Louderback, Indigeous food expert Cynthia Wilson, and poet Orlando White (4/18);
  • Bee Party with former Utah Poet Laureate Katharine Coles and Utah State University entomologist Diana Cox-Foster (5/2);
  • River Walk with Utah Poet Laureate Paisley Rekdal and Jordan River Commission project manager Brian Tonetti (5/16).

Also featured in April were two programs focusing on writing poetry:

  • A workshop led by poet Lisa Bickmore will let participants explore the museum in order to generate ekphrastic poetry (4/7);
  • 30 Poems in 30 Days, Salt Lake City’s Community Writing Center’s annual competition, presented this year in partnership with the Natural History Museum of Utah and the Salt Lake City Library, asks participants to write 30 poems based on daily prompts throughout the month of April. Winners will have a chapbook of their original poems produced by the CWC.

Further offerings included family-friendly events and activities:

  • Leap into Poetry, a class aimed at early elementary-aged children, will use children’s scientific observations as inspiration for a poem (4/17 and 5/15);
  • Fieldwork Storytimes are nature and poetry storytimes for preschoolers, taking place at all library locations and select parks (Spring 2019).

The Poetry of Field Journals Workshop Series, made up of four separate but interconnected workshops led by poets and scientists, invited participants to engage in the continuing tradition of generating their own field journals, inspired by nature hikes and poetry workshops:

  • Michelle MacFarlane and Becky Thomas, from the University of Utah’s Book Arts Program, led a workshop on the history of the field journal, culminating in creating your own (4/27);
  • Scientific illustrator Natalia Wilkins-Tyler taught a nature sketching class for all skill levels (5/4);
  • NHMU’s botanist Elizabeth Johnson and entomologist Christy Bills led a nature walk through the foothills above Salt Lake City, in which participants learned to mount their own specimens (5/11);
  • Michelle MacFarlane and Becky Thomas teamed up again for a nature poetry workshop based on field work experiences (5/18).

And April 27th marked the dedication of the NHMU’s section of the Poetry Path, with the Library portion of the path still in the design phase.

Visit NHMU’s Field Work Page for a full calendar of upcoming programming.



Former Utah Poet Laureate Katharine Coles is the program’s Poet-in-Residence in Salt Lake City. Coles’ seventh collection of poems, Wayward, will be published in June 2019; her memoir, Look Both Ways, was released in 2018. From 2012–2015, she worked as co-PI with computer scientist Miriah Meyer on the Poemage visualization tool. In 2010, she traveled to Antarctica to write poems under the auspices of the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. She has also received grants and fellowships from the NEA, the NEH, and the Guggenheim Foundation. She is founding co-director of the Utah Symposium in Science and Literature and a Distinguished Professor at the University of Utah.

Alison Hawthorne Deming is the visiting Poet-in-Residence in Milwaukee. Deming is the author of 9 books of poetry and 4 nonfiction books, including a collaboration with Stephen Strom, a renowned professor of astrophysics. She was a lead Poet-in-Residence for Poets House’s Language of Conservation, a program featuring environmental-themed poetry installations in zoos and public libraries that aimed to deepen understanding of the natural world and environmental science.


Program Goals

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Field Work, funded by the national Institute of Museum and Library Services, will deepen the capacities of community-based anchor organizations; strengthen collaboration between institutions; support flexible cross-disciplinary thinking among professional staffs, visitors and city residents; and articulate new ways for literary arts and science to inform each other. As libraries and museums develop new facets of their traditional roles as places where constituents receive information, Field Work emphasizes the importance of these community organizations as partners in building community engagement and creating new, participatory models for public discourse and learning.