Reviewing the Literature

“Wistful and willful; see 
Beverly Cleary’s
Protagonists vivid,
Forever sincere—
Beezus; Ramona; a
Mouse, motorcycling; list 
Funny, true, dear.”

After the week of lab-centered light verse, the next week of NaPoWriMo 2021 was focused on “Twitter biographies”: short poems about the lives of scientists and writers.  The first was posted on 12 April 2021 and had a near-double-dactyl form.  It was posted on “Drop Everything and Read” Day, which is celebrated on author Beverly Cleary’s birthday.  

“Wistful and willful; see /
Beverly Cleary’s /
Protagonists vivid, /
Forever sincere…”

It was interesting in reading Beverly Cleary’s autobiography, long after I encountered her fiction books, to realize how many of the characters and scenarios she described in the latter were drawn from her own life.  That helped explain the vivid details behind so many of these classic scenes and stories!  

As stated above, this particular Twitter bio was posted on “Drop Everything and Read” Day, or “D. E. A. R.” Day.  Cleary’s most famous character, Ramona Quimby, celebrates the D.E.A.R. routine in Ramona Quimby, Age 8.  Ramona greatly enjoys reading books of her own for an hour in the midst of the busy school day (although she prefers to refer to it as the more sophisticated routine of “Sustained Silent Reading”).   

“Beezus; Ramona; a /
Mouse, motorcycling; list / 
Characteristic’ly /
Funny, true, dear.”

In addition to Ramona, I remember her sister Beezus, their neighbor Henry Huggins: humorous and heartfelt characters dealing with everyday scenarios.  Cleary also wrote wonderful stories about animal protagonists: The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Ribsy, Socks.  

Only a few of Cleary’s characters have names that lend themselves to the dactylic meter, so only a few are noted specifically here via verse. However, I could write at length about how these books have all inspired me in terms of my own reading and writing. In particular, Dear Mr. Henshaw was my first introduction to an epistolary novel and the interesting flexibility that that form provides.  

Cleary passed away just last year, at age 104, leaving a legacy of characters true-to-life, sympathetic, and inspiring: a “list / characteristic’ly / funny, true, [and] dear.”  


Periodic Practice

“The end of these April renditions;
I wrap up here second edition
Of month STEM-poetic,
Routine theoretic:
Two years now of rhyming tradition.”  

The 30 April 2020 limerick commemorated the end of my second attempt at National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo).  

“The end of these April renditions…”
National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo), like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), encourages writers to spend a month-long stretch devoted to a daily routine of writing.  For me, personally, a poem per day is significantly more feasible than a novel in a month!  April 30 has marked a milestone in the past few years, as I’ve managed thirty poems in thirty days in both 2019 and 2020.  

“I wrap up here second edition /
Of month STEM-poetic…”
In reality, the 2019 poems were more cohesive in their focus on chemistry concepts and stories (“STEM-poetic”) than were the 2020 poems. The 2020 project did acknowledge several scientific concepts and scientists, but on other days, I simply described the historic and unusual circumstances of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.  I’ve been finding the distinctions between work and life quite blurred, over the past several months, so perhaps this “second edition” can be thought of as acknowledging that.  

“Routine theoretic: /
Two years now of rhyming tradition.”  
I’ve written here previously that the overlap of writing practice and chemistry concepts (a “routine theoretic”) has been particularly helpful for me.  That has continued in this challenging year.  Having the structure of NaPoWriMo has been useful in generating poetic verse; expanding on those brief poems in short essays has likewise provided a welcome distraction during some busy weeks. 

As I write this entry, I’m through the majority of my third NaPoWriMo, and I am hopeful that I can finish the 2021 poems, as well, to revisit here later this year. 



This virtual space: still uncharted;
My first few attempts have been thwarted.
But thoughts keep repeating:
The time here is fleeting;
Get moving; get writing; get started.

I’ve always thought of myself as both a chemist and a writer, but little evidence exists of the latter role, compared to the former. I’m hoping to change that in terms of my creative routine this year.

The last few years have brought some tentative steps in that direction. Most concretely, I greatly enjoyed a poetic experiment in April 2019, wherein I celebrated the overlap of the International Year of the Periodic Table and National Poetry Month, “five lines at a time,” with a set of thirty limericks over thirty days, shared on my Twitter account. I’ve been meaning for several months to go back and provide some additional context and content, so that the limericks could conceivably be useful/educational, as well as format-appropriate. That intent is my most specific and immediate aim, here. I plan to keep each of these initial entries constrained to 280 words, given their origin in Twitter’s 280-character limit: hoping to keep the discussion distinct and direct.

More generally, the “what I wish I’d known” list gets a bit longer every year, as it applies to both 2000 (as a chemistry student in college) and 2010 (as a new chemistry professor). I’ve thought for a while about attempting to compile and communicate some of that information, and this could be a space for that purpose.

And finally, at the risk of this entry’s becoming a bit of a Mobius strip, I’ve found the rediscovery of creative writing to be restorative during the past few years: writing about writing will be a third common topic here, I imagine. While the techniques or resources I’ve discovered are not remotely new, they have all at some recent point been new to me. I’d thus like to create my record of what has helped, in the hopes that it might conceivably someday help others.

As with so many things, it is daunting to try, but more daunting to consider not-trying! So: to be continued.