Contributor Spotlight: Jessica Reed

Reed headshot 2016Jessica Reed’s poems, “General Relativity: A Natural History of Motion”  and “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Language in Special Relativity,” are featured in Issue 73 of the Bellingham Review.

What would you like to share with our readers about the work you contributed to the Bellingham Review?

The title of the special relativity poem is a nod to Eugene Wigner’s famous philosophical essay, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.” Whereas Wigner was marveling at the wide range of phenomena that can be explained with a limited set of mathematical descriptions, I was thinking about the scope and power of natural languages. I was taking Brian Greene’s online special relativity class when I wrote the poem, and was struck by how far language indeed takes us, especially given that poets (and scientists) make much of where language falls short.

I wrote “General Relativity: A Natural History of Motion” as I was reading The Perfect Theory, Pedro G. Ferreira’s book about general relativity. I was also immersed in Reginald Sheperd’s poetry at that time; I wanted to follow his syntax into the strange territory of warping spacetime.

Tell us about your writing life. How long have you been writing? What’s kept you writing?

I began writing creatively in college while majoring in physics. From there, my mentor Tom Andrews encouraged me to get my M.F.A. in poetry. I have written continuously since then, but I did not submit my work for publication for many years. It took some time for me to figure out how to live with my bipolar disorder (first diagnosed in my early twenties). With the help of my extremely supportive husband and my family (as well as a great doctor), I’ve become more serious about my writing in recent years. I have always wrestled with philosophy of physics in my poetry, with the difficulty imagining reality (Feynman said the scientific imagination is like a straightjacket, and that it’s easier to picture invisible angels than electromagnetic waves), with the traps of metaphor, and the mysteries of language.

What writing advice has stayed with you?

Be persistent.

What is your favorite book (essay, poem, short story)? Who is your favorite writer?

I am in love with Italo Calvino, especially the Cosmicomics and Mr. Palomar. Tom Andrews’ poetry is special to me. Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Arthur Sze, Charles Wright, Bin Ramke, Jorie Graham, Brenda Hillman, Rae Armantrout…

What are you reading right now?

At the moment, I’m reading what I’m teaching in my Physics and the Arts seminar: Calvino and Lucretius.

What project are you working on now?

I am working on a manuscript about atoms, in dialogue with Lucretius, the world’s first atomic poet. Though it began as a response to Lucretius’ two thousand year old poem, World, Composed has grown into areas of physics besides atomism, like these two relativity poems in the Bellingham Review.

Anything else our readers might want to know about you?

My husband and I live in rural Indiana with chickens, a prairie, gardens, solar panels and an electric car. I am a worm composter!

Where can our readers connect with you online?


JESSICA REED‘s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse; Conjunctions; North American Review; Waxwing; 111O; Tinderbox Poetry Journal; Spiral Orb; The Fourth River; Kudzu House Quarterly; and Isotope: A Journal of Literary Nature and Science Writing. She currently teaches a Physics and the Arts seminar at Butler University. She has an MFA in poetry and a BS in physics, both from Purdue University, and lives in Indiana with her husband and chickens.