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  • What You Might Equate To,

    Poems by Ben Kuznets-Speck


  • Contents

    Title page 1

    Contents 2

    Poetry Through My Eyes a Critical Introduction 3

    Epigraph 8

    cataracts 9

    ultraviolet catastrophe 11

    tides 13

    across 14

    fields 15

    what you might equate to 16

    U-238 18

    found on the floor 21

    yellow is the color 22

    you are to me a poem 24

    About The Author 25

    Works Cited 26


  • Poetry Through My Eyes

    The most I can say about poetry is that it provides a medium by which the intrinsic truths,

    spiritual and physical, of the world in which we dwell are allowed, forced even, to mingle and

    hybridize, creating those not to be found in the deepest recesses of space or the mind alone. It is

    this transcendent dialogue between the self and the gestalt collection of all selves that allows us

    to see deeper and clearer into what we might call reality than without the poem.

    Indeed, it is the experience and discovery uncovered in the poem which ties it most

    intimately to what we might consider, at first glance, to be its polar opposite science. Hugh

    MacDiarmid explores this idea in Poetry and Science, and, truth be told, it is the abstract nature

    of both poetry and science which scares those in one field away from the other. Of course, math

    is not about symbols on a blackboard or piece of paper, which is the impression most people are

    hard put to avoid from the time they enter infant school onward, (MacDiarmid 122) just as

    poetry is not just about landscapes and metaphor; rather, the two are about coming closer to the

    truth(s) of the world around us in the only really rigorous (albeit sometimes a bit abstract) way

    we know how the only real difference between mathematicians and poets is that one employs

    symbols and the other words to describe their reality. As such, it is just another sorry instance of

    the failure of most scientists and philosophers to avail themselves of the aid they could have

    derived from a really thorough and up-to-date knowledge of poetry, (MacDiarmid 133) and visa

    versa. Those of us who are lucky enough to have knowledge of poetry and science know that

    these feed each other, and are, at most, different sides of the same coin: one that deals in

    conditions (we can hardly say that the human condition is not a physical one, nor that the


  • physical conditions of nature arent closely tied to human construct). In summary, a flower is a

    flower, but it derives its beauty not simply from being such, but from what we as humans give to

    it, its physical and poetic composition. We might say that this flower finds beauty in its

    complexion, form, and the way it sways in the breeze, or we might say that its the unique way

    electromagnetic waves reflect off the petals, the topology of the petals themselves, and the

    manner in which they interact individually and as a whole with all the forces of nature; these two

    qualifications are one in the same.

    This deeply rooted connection between science and poetry is not all that hard to believe

    if we allow ourselves the simple sentiment of wishing to come out of a situation with more than

    what we entered with, which is by all accounts the essence of discovery. Thus is the goal when

    studying any text: to discover through experience, whether it be thinking about why we are

    bound to this earth as Newton did, or standing beside Ginsberg in the shadow of dungarees and

    the lava and ash of poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago. We can say then that no research or

    writing is groundbreaking since it is inevitably woven from the research and writing of others, or

    as Machado put it we may perhaps see the new reasons arise from the old, thanks to the

    immanent dialectic of all thinking" (Machado 163). Discovery then is not singular, rather poetry

    and science itself abounds in instances of unrelated research arriving independently and from

    different angles of approach at identical discoveries (MacDiarmid 133). It is this eureka

    moment we all strive for when the pieces fit together so perfectly they form what I would

    equate to a staircase: upon which one can climb and take in a greater truth than would have been

    possible from the ground. This is the stuff of junkies. This is discovery. I discover every day.


  • Moreover, I would dare to say that poetry as an experience is as continuous and

    unpredictable a discovery as life itself. Picking up a good poem, even if Ive read it many times

    before is like stepping into a scene, one that is at once vivid and opaque, oscillating back and

    forth through time, yet seeming to encapsulate a single moment in a manner only the fondest of

    memories can emulate. In this way, as Pasternak remarked, "life hasn't just begun. Art never had

    a beginning. Always, until the moment of its stopping, it was constantly there" (Pasternak 24).

    Life and poetry alike are nothing without experience, which forms a continuity of sorts. Before

    experience, as far as we are concerned, there was nothing; in the midst of experience there is

    only that, and one could say that experience to come is simply the reflection of that before it, but

    abstracted and distorted so that it must be experienced again. Lorca describes the mystic and

    fleeting experience the reader brings to the poem, and visa versa, as the duende.

    The duende, then, is a power and not a construct, is a struggle and not a concept.

    I have heard an old guitarist, a true virtuoso, remark, The duende is not in the

    throat, the duende comes up from inside, up from the very soles of the feet. That

    is to say, it is not a question of aptitude, but of a true and viable styleof blood,

    in other words; of what is oldest in culture: of creation made act. (Lorca 29)

    So duende cannot be without some sort of human interference; this 'struggle', the desperate

    grasping into night is what makes us human and is nothing without humanity. Whats more, the

    Duende never repeats himself, any more than the forms of the sea repeat themselves in a

    storm, (Lorca 37) and so it would appear that the duende and the poem therein go through a

    constant evolution of sorts. Duncan points out that in poetry as in Darwinian evolution, by

    chance significance emerges: i.e out of multiple "formless" possibilities only one thing actually


  • happens, (Duncan 261) suggesting that the experience of poetry is in fact a type of complex

    irreducibility. This is to say that the poem is not what mathematicians would call closed form;

    you cannot simply reconcile the entity as a whole to get to a specific outcome, rather you must

    follow along beside it every step of the way, the place you choose to begin leading you to a

    different destination than all others in the span of all possible outcomes. Perhaps this is why a

    poem always has elements of accident about it, (Heaney 274) because we must engage it

    constantly. After all, [form] is not only in order to participate in the universe but also to

    participate in self (Duncan 262). This participation functions as a type of searching. We should

    always be searching for something, and furthermore, should be satisfied with whatever happens,

    not because it was what we hoped for, but because it happened at all, and because it is the only

    thing that could ever happen.

    Yet, we are only human and so are doomed to a constant struggle for some greater

    knowing and control. Of course such ventures are futile, if for no other reason than because we

    are fundamentally separated from the natural world which we wish to reconcile because of our

    humanity, which is in simplest terms to point out the disconnect between what we might call free

    will and the natural order of things. So too, then, is the construct of language disconnected from

    describing things as they are rather than what we should, at some level, want them to be. On the

    outset, this should seem quite frightening, for all ventures dealing in the absolute are certainly

    doomed, but the irrational nature of being human in the first place, I believe, provides a struggle

    to which we can hold on to. It is this constant pushing against a force that will inevitable win and

    that we will never truly understand that embodies what poetry is to me, and, as far as Im

    concerned, is demonstrated no where more vividly than in Allen Ginsbergs Howl. I say this


  • because, in this piece, Ginsberg deals in perhaps the only void larger than that between human

    and nature, human and human; for what is more of a struggle than pleading with ones fellow

    people for understanding or even simply to have ones ideas recognized. Yes, I would say there

    comes a time in all of our lives when our minds are lost, or close to it, when we climb to

    rooftops waving manuscripts, only to be dragged off (Ginsberg 228). And I would go further to

    say that if we have not been lost to a fate far worse than misunderstanding indifference then

    we, at some time or another will all be Carl: not safe, and lost to the total animal soup of time,


    to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand

    before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame,

    rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of

    thought in his naked and endless head (Ginsburg 229).

    This is really what poetry is to me: the searching, the admittance of futility, the searching, again.


  • What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.

    -Werner Heisenberg


  • cataracts

    cloudy mirrors work best, I think Im not really one for reflection but time seems to be so I guess if I am I should probably see before me, behind me, chasing bright

    light cascades from god knows where comes up along the front collides with lips, high cheeks hollow eye sockets take the brunt of the photons who never asked to be here, looking into whites of eyes overwritten by ink dark pupil swallowed up and spit out the cataract forgives what I see, scared scared that maybe that was me.

    its all used up its all been spent that blue grey outlines all thats left to see

    there is a struggle in that glass, I know, this image lying before me

    blurred around the edges, boiling off into dense night


  • Process Note (cataracts): I wanted to keep a non-uniform structure for this poem, so I decided not to break it solely into tercets (which is a practice I have taken up elsewhere). There were places where transformative line breaks could have been executed better (i.e. cascades from god) so that was an obvious change. Other than that, and the addition of a few words here and there to help with the flow, the major change I made to this piece was omitting most of the original 5th stanza since its rhyme scheme felt a little too forced for the tone of the poem as a whole.


  • ultraviolet catastrophe

    dusk is falling on you faster than I expected

    and its not the first time but weve known each other too long not to know this time is different

    from when wed lie for hours, four legs meshed under a sole magnolia.

    madness would mingle with sweet spring air and soft buds swaying

    in the winds resonance lapping on the shores of our island.

    much time has passed, real and imagined time weaving currents and intersections

    suggesting that we resist the flow second by second; frame by frame a constant molting

    away from the field it looks like the flow diverges here its winter and the seconds are getting longer

    the airs cold and thin now, but I wouldnt call it bitter anyways, there are some clocks you cant fix so we try not to think about it

    instead, we stand, lean really on the rust-trimmed body of once deep blue Cadillac, now faded and stark, staring at a white plane, single tree in the distance


  • I thought I saw something move just for a second, but no it too has passed.

    for a moment, we wait still traveling on those silent notes coursing through night infinite harmonics undulating in that black box

    as the snow melts, the ground glows white hot and then nothing for us to see anyway

    only noise has that field now as eyelids drift closed heavy with our burdens

    and the sweet song of your surrender sill rings in my ears

    Process Note (ultraviolet catastrophe): In revising this poem, my number one priority was to add a little clarity, or remove those lines which took away from the potential clarity with their abstractions. This still acts as a stream of consciousness piece, but I believe that establishing the regular pattern of tercets and fiddling with original line breaks hear and there puts forth the structure needed to get the point across without excess punctuation and melancholy fluff.


  • tides

    I cannot think of this tide now that it has crashed down too many times

    I have drowned in the waves, the crests and troughs etching interference, turning pulp

    to coral. A brain stem holds dearly to its tree its earth or ocean reed swaying softly, under all water both deeply rooted

    in being. Through the motions the reed undulates, dances even, to a beat coming from somewhere far out.

    Down here, everybody knows the moves but few appreciate the lighting refracted through the surface

    taking something in return for the calm that a tree on shore will never know

    least of all think, or react to, when the storms start blowing in

    Process Note (tides): Ive paired down my first draft of this poem as to give it some structure. I would hope that this structure is enhanced by the use of punctuation to divide the work, although continuous, into individual thoughts. I hope that the transformative line breaks leave some ambiguity, but not so much as to loose sight of the path the poem takes from beneath the water to dry land and back.


  • across

    I glance from time to time across the canopy that lies between me

    and you, searching for something to transcend what will be found beneath soft dirt.

    in that place below the surface light could lift your pale skin

    up from two way mirrors to the highest branches and rustling leaves of your disguise.

    through you dont much care for now, you grow tired of symmetries in the dark, and its easy

    to see you too think of that forest often trees grow beneath trees

    Process Note (across): I thought it might be a good idea to add some structure to an originally very abstract poem. Although I hope their remains some abstraction, I wanted to make the transition to quasi-narration so I did my best to separate thoughts into sentences (though I hope their flow is airy) and incorporate a quartic structure.


  • fields

    i find comfort in the perturbations that are the difference between now, and next

    a shift from samenesses makes the gradient we can lean on

    through the travel of time, of which we speak little, and time perturbs us too, so we lean;

    we are carried by those little differences and so it shouldnt surprise you that when you speak, and i listen

    on the other end of the line its hard to tell if you were ever there at all

    or just wandering through the noise

    Process Note (fields): I only made minor changes to the original version of this poem. First off, I changed the title from noise to fields as I found it captured the overarching scientific and emotional themes I was going for better (fields can be thought of as a wide empty space for contemplation and the spaces in which all events occur). I next changed the sameness so samenesses in the second stanza as I felt it helped with meter (in that stanza, at least). The last augmentation I made was to replace lost to to wandering through in the last stanza, and to introduce a couplet that I thought wrapped up the work nicely.


  • what you might equate to

    we hardly ever see equations lying awake, at night, after hours

    tucked away in the blackness starring hard at cottage cheese ceiling

    little by little their eyes hoping to find

    an answer to themselves, maybe theyll admit recursion wasnt really worth it, after all

    why should we think were so different

    slowing under error piled on, each cycle something lost

    in translation, Im feeling what you might equate to the sound of light

    buzzing, up through ears, contracted pupils

    the reflection of dust speckled sunbeam leaping off


    down to extremities


  • tingling tiny gaps

    cliffs, valleys, the dermas

    breaking away so that I may be awake

    though equations only operate never stick around and wait to see how we reconcile that fruit rendered, from the pieces

    the parts, the proof that flowers the knowing

    what comes next

    Process Note (what you might equate to): After careful consideration, I found that shifting the poem to start at the the first drafts eleventh stanza and then ending at what comes next was a natural augmentation. I chose this path not only because of the cyclic theme of the poem (inputs and outputs, sleep cycles), but in hopes of addressing the notion of equations sooner and incorporating a bit of randomness to the start. I feel as if this change also forces the notion of continuity into the poem, specifically in the transition from sleep to an awakening. I decided not to get rid of the cottage cheese ceiling reference because I felt it was just obscure enough to resonate with hours of sleepless contemplation.


  • U-238

    Lately, you have been posing many problems for us, and now

    we are left to figure out what we are to do.

    Many believe they are right in assumptions, made rashly in the offices of big oil, on the floor of the house they are right.

    You are the cancer, the radiation flowing through the thyroids of women and children

    at Chernobyl, 31 died and you leaked into the land

    you plumed from smoking silos but not of your own accord

    rather human error is responsible for the dust settled on porches and swing sets.

    We tell ourselves often that this times the last times the next,


  • yet we are used and find ourselves using you

    and perhaps there is more misinformation than thought

    for you never became death, destroyer of worlds not that we wouldnt have willed you to be

    thrust upon our enemies to rise in plumes and fall to ash.

    Instead we sifted, like flour, the yellow cake from enrichment.

    Were just afraid of your nature highly unstable

    or lack of nature, thus you must be locked away, another five billion years will do

    the trick and well be gone and you will be a mountain

    of barrels, resting on the rubble of Yucca mountain where we left you.

    So what is this nature you speak of you are the air and the rolling hills you were here first.


  • Process Note (U-238): There wasnt a lot I wanted to change about this poem. For one, I thought that tercets suited it nicely, so those stayed. So did the overarching narrative of the piece, with a few exceptions. First and foremost, I tried to cut out those lines which felt a little too obvious (never to be used again, radiation seems inevitable etc.). I also changed the line breaks up a little bit by switching words (from end of one line to beginning of next and visa versa) here and there. Finally, I did my best to solidify some notions that werent as concrete and dispel some other beliefs that mistakenly snuck in with the first draft. Adding punctuation to the fourth stanza, I hoped to clarify that I am referencing Republicans (and conservatives in general) who have historically been opposed to nuclear power. Lastly, concerning the discussion on Hiroshima, I did not mean to imply that the violence itself was inevitable, but rather to allude to the fact that it happened.


  • found on the floor

    in the folds and scents of lavender you leftbehind, the scarf still holds your secrets, your sorrows.

    Process Note (found on the floor): I was quite happy with how this poem turned out after completing the first draft, in terms of content. However, as you pointed out in your comment, it resonates at new and more abstract levels by shifting lines so as to start with in the folds.


  • yellow is the color

    yellow is the color that hold you

    the last sliver of light to escape the horizon in perfect symmetry with the first

    blossoms to show their faces, and the green grasses you tread, their steam and petrichor

    amplified by the blue waves mounting off shore and heading in the only way they know

    the smell of you, the lilacs you wear keeping you somewhere near spring on the cold days

    when deeper shades of violet assume the rings under your eyes and then all grey,

    how to remember fuzzy from what they give you and what you give yourself

    permission to go out into yellow the color of slipping away


  • Process Note (yellow is the color): I definitely agreed with the sentiment that all of the colors of the rainbow need not show there face in this poem for it to be called complete. Having said this, I obviously cut some of the stanzas that just werent doing it for me after the first creative round (red, orange). I also thought it would be nice to start with yellow is the color that hold you since it was my favorite line in the original draft. Other than that, I just made a couple of changes in diction and introduced an overall structure of quartics so as to piece out thoughts in what I would consider a unified way.


  • you are to me a poem

    and it seemed once, that we never would meet like this, you picking me and me picking you up

    to take a closer look at your fine structure, and examine, maybe, your topology

    falling along the curves you take from that blank space

    you came to me, the growing presence of moon

    in white winter, ski before dusk and a constant force between us, each pulling on the other, to be whole again

    i think of the sounds you made when we were together, ringing well past the bounds of your margins


  • About The Author

    Ben Kuznets-Speck is a math and physics major at Case Western Reserve University. When he is not doing problem sets, with coffee in hand, you can find him writing (also with coffee in hand), swimming or playing with his dogs. Ben lives with his two mothers, Naomi Kuznets and Sherri Speck, and three dogs, Curley, Riley and Beau.



    MacDiarmid, Hugh. "Poetry and Science." The Poet's Work: 29 Poets on the Origins and Practice of Their Art. Ed. Reginald Gibbons. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1989. Print.

    Ginsberg, Allen. "Howl." The Vintage Book Of Contemporary American Poetry. Ed. J.D. McClatchy. 2nd ed. New York: Random House, 2003. 225-229. Print.

    Machado, Antonio. Notes on Poetry." The Poet's Work: 29 Poets on the Origins and Practice of Their Art. Ed. Reginald Gibbons. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1989. Print.

    Pasternak, Boris. Some Statements." The Poet's Work: 29 Poets on the Origins and Practice of Their Art. Ed. Reginald Gibbons. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1989. Print.

    Lorca, Federico Garcia. The Duende: Theory and Divertissement. The Poet's Work: 29 Poets on the Origins and Practice of Their Art. Ed. Reginald Gibbons. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1989. Print.

    Duncan, Robert. Notes on Poetic Form." The Poet's Work: 29 Poets on the Origins and Practice of Their Art. Ed. Reginald Gibbons. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1989. Print.

    Heaney, Seamus. Feelings into Words." The Poet's Work: 29 Poets on the Origins and Practice of Their Art. Ed. Reginald Gibbons. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1989. Print.