Saturday, May 16, 2015

Somerville’s Mary Alexandra Agner: A Potent Mix of the Poetic and Scientific.

Mary Alexandra Agner


Somerville’s Mary Alexandra Agner: A Potent Mix of the Poetic and Scientific.

By Doug Holder

Mary Alexandra Agner met me at my usual corner at the Bloc 11 Café in Union Square to discuss her career in science, writing and poetry. Agner moved to Somerville in 1997, and told me that her first poetry publication was in Somerville’s Ibbetson Street magazine. Agner earned a degree from MIT and an MFA at Emerson College in Boston. At Emerson she studied with the late, great, and very eccentric poet Bill Knott. Agner said of Knott: “He was very influential and was very willing to work with me and other students. In fact Knott blurbed her first collection of poetry: “Doors of the Body.”

Agner's latest venture is “Science News in Verse’ This project is hosted by PATREON, a crowd funding Internet site. People donate money on a monthly basis, and in return Agner writes verse concerning the latest science news. For instance, a recent poem that she composed was based on some fossils at a Yale University museum that were mislabeled as birds.  Later they were  found out to be dinosaurs.  From this tidbit Agner was able to mine a poem about dinosaurs at sea. In the era of the dinosaur, the area we now call Kansas was largely a body of water, thus the dinosaurs at sea theme. Agner reflected: “It is a joy to put science to verse. Through this genre, it helps people become interested in science.”

Agner also has a column titled “Failing the Finkbeiner” (based on a test) that champions the recent accomplishments of woman scientists. Agner told me” Although women have made strides in the past decades, there is still much discrimination, and much work to be done. My friends and I all have experienced discrimination in one form or the other.” The idea for “Failing….” started with an obituary in the New York Times of a prominent rocket scientist, Yvonne Brill. The obit started out (according to Agner), with a lead sentence that referred how this top shelf scientist made great lasagna. Understandably, a lot of women scientists and women in general, were upset with this. Agner said, “This gave me the idea of how we can write about a female scientist without mentioning her cooking or kids. I decided to write reports on women scientists that didn’t focus on the fact that they are women, but that they are scientists with important work and accomplishments.

Agner told me she left the software industry to freelance as a writer. “It is a tough way to make a living, but I am making my way.’ But like any start-up, it takes time to take root and grow. In the meantime this industrious Somervellian will turn out poems and articles on a consistent basis. Agner finished her java, and left my nook, undoubtedly swept up by the street of the—Paris of New England.

Here's the link to Agner's website


Keeper of the Skies
by Mary Alexandra Agner

Brian Marsden, 1937-2010 (,0,6000662.story)

Celestial mechanic, comet-tamer
calming gas jets, stalker of debris,
another Mitchell building orbitology
from logarithms calc-ed longhand and frames
(or plates) of captured photons which were blamed
when their reflector’s planned trajectory
intersected Earth’s geometry.
He was our herald of the outer flame.

Relinquish, solar system, all that light
can share: revisit times, those ancient berths
of rock and gas which elude human sight---
to Brian Marsden, who catalogued your worth.
Flare up your lamp! And set your ice to flight!
For he has gone and nothing fills the dearth.
( Previously published in The Flea)

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