Poet Explores the Silly Side of Science

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Alan Van Dine thinks there is a place for humor in science – and a place for science in humor. His new book of light verse and humorous illustrations includes more than 30 entries involving questions of science – along with a good deal else. The book is called If Instead of Apes We Had Come from Grapes, We Wouldn’t Just Yet Be Wine (Towers Maguire Publishing, 2006). Its subtitle is “Light verse for a heavy universe.” The book opens with a verse called “Knucklewalker’s Lament,” which considers how things might have turned out if the evolving apes had never freed their hands by standing up and walking on two feet. It begins, As everyone knows, if Shakespeare had needed to write with his toes, his verse would be shorter and so would his prose. Apart from science, "If Instead of Apes..." includes humorous verse and drawings on many other topics, including a section of “Rhymes and Ditties for Middle-Size Cities” and one called “The Nuns & Hermits Limerick Cycle.”

Alan Van Dine thinks there is a place for humor in science – and a place for science in humor.

His new book of light verse and humorous illustrations includes more than 30 entries involving questions of science – along with a good deal else.

The book is called "If Instead of Apes We Had Come from Grapes, We Wouldn’t Just Yet Be Wine" (Towers Maguire Publishing, 2006, Pittsburgh, PA). Its subtitle is “Light verse for a heavy universe.”

The book opens with a verse called “Knucklewalker’s Lament,” which considers how things might have turned out if the evolving apes had never freed their hands by standing up and walking on two feet. It begins,

As everyone knows,

if Shakespeare had needed

to write with his toes,

his verse would be shorter

and so would his prose.

After bewailing some of the works that would never have been written and paying tribute to the first ape who managed to stand up, the poem concludes,

Good thing, too,

or the rest of the breed

might inhabit a zoo,

and if everyone needed

their hands to walk,

Italians wouldn’t

be able to talk

In a verse called “Wait for the Light,” everyone is standing in line because there’s an eight-minute wait for light from the sun. But the public address system reassures the crowd:

Now folks, be patient, please.

The sun never knows when it’s noon.

We do. Everything’s closely timed:

waves from the lunar seas arrive

in a second or two, then merge

with others that left long since

from stars, clouds, bursts,

all to converge like spokes

at precisely the place you stand

and, brilliantly, all at once

There are verses titled “High Anglican Physics” and “Why Toads Are Classified as Ambivalent.” A poem called “Questions” is a dialogue between father and son after the son asks what the world is made of. And the shortest poem in the book is called “Memorandum on the Origin of Species.” It reads:

It takes time

to evolve from slime

In one poem, “To Barbara, Who Forgets in Her Sleep,” Van Dine explores the paradoxical nature of memory:

Forget this rule: you can’t remember

any fact before you’ve thought it,

nor remember anything

until you’ve learned and then forgot it.

This rule can change your life, so let it

be remembered. So forget it.

In “The Fat Nations and the Thin Nations,” the author works through five different mock-scientific methods for finding the weight of a country. For example, by subtraction:

The world is your minuend. From that,

remove all the expendable countries,

the oceans, the polar caps, the caribou

above the belt, the elephants below,

and the big rock where they keep the monkeys.

Your country is what’s left.

“Happy 12,000th Birthday” addresses the two oldest living things on earth – a box huckleberry in eastern Pennsylvania and a bristlecone pine in the southern Rockies. All of recorded history has taken place within their lifetimes, as the poem recalls:

Before the pyramids arose,

before the druids or the ark,

before invention of the hose,

the sprinkler or the public park,

before Methuselah was born,

before the Trojans met the horse

or Joshua put lips to horn,

before the Vikings took to oars,

or Percival saw the holy cup,

or the Spanish fleet was put to rout,

the bristlecone was reaching up,

the huckleberry reaching out

Sometimes the scientific angle comes in through the back door, as in “A Wonders of Nature Poem Fraught with Awful Foreboding.”

Even the pigeon, that abject pariah,

when the sun is in just the right position,

shimmers in iridescent tinges

of purple and chartreuse

When the sun is not in just the right position,

earth will be toast, and shimmering pigeons

will be of very little use

Apart from science, If Instead of Apes... includes humorous verse and drawings on many other topics, including a section of “Rhymes and Ditties for Middle-Size Cities” and one called “The Nuns & Hermits Limerick Cycle.”

Other examples of the verses appear on the poet’s web site, http://www.insteadofapes.com.

Contact:

Tim Weller, Professional Writers & Editors (800) 878-4603, or

Alan Van Dine, (412) 421-5930

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(More poems, illustrations available upon request.)

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