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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 begins this fall, 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 launches in February 2019 with The Botany of Beverages, an exploration of the tastes, science, and poetry of beer and other drinks. These events will be followed by a teen poetry contest, concerts, poetry walks led by poets and scientists, and an event to celebrate the opening of the poetry path in April 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 at NHMU with a three-part series called 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, Kate Coles, and Paisley Rekdal (12/5).

The poet-scientist pairings continue in April 2019:

  • Native Voices with Lisbeth Louderback, Cynthia Wilson and Orlando White (4/18);
  • Bees with Kate Coles and Diana Cox-Foster, a USU bee expert (5/2);
  • River Walk with Paisley Rekdal and Brian Tonetti of the Seven Canyons Trust (5/16).

Fall and spring events will include nature walks, writing workshops, and art programs for adults, as well as programs in all library branches for preschoolers and children. The Salt Lake City Poetry Path will debut in late spring 2019.



Former Utah Poet Laureate Katharine Coles is the program’s Poet-in-Residence in Salt Lake City. She is the author of many books of poetry and two novels. Her recent poetry collection The Earth Is Not Flat was written with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, and chronicles her journey to Antarctica. She is a professor at the University of Utah and co-directs the Utah Symposium in Science and Literature with mathematician and biologist Fred Alder. She was the inaugural Director of the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute, where she edited Blueprints: Bringing Poetry into Communities.

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

IMLS logo

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.