Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tuesday Poem - GromiaDNA - Silent Creature, Silent Space

Hei hei. It feels like eons since the last time I was here. Thank you for continuing to visit. . .  

Today's (late, late, lateTuesday Poem is a little out-of-the-ordinary. My previous entry carried mention of various online projects I've been immersed in lately; one of these is a collaborative (ad)venture titled A VAST SCALE - Evocations of Antarctica*.  AVS is a Ning community site created and managed by my Aussie-based friend and fellow Antarctican, Rupert Summerson and moi. If any of you are interested in participating or having a look-see, please let me know (either leave a comment here or email me at and I will send you the password to the site? 

I'll say just a wee bit about A Vast Scale given that it relates to today's Tuesday Poem. Between us, Rupert and I created a series of short ice-related videos for the Ning site with the purpose of engendering discussion re; the Antarctic environment, sound/music and aesthetics; this is an informal research project whose focus is more on creative process, networking and subjective opinion than it is on hard-nosed statistics and conclusive findings. We'll be presenting a paper at the Antarctica Sound conference in Canberra next w-eek. I say w-eek because I was supposed to be boarding a plane to Australia first thing this morning (the red-eye flight from Christchurch) but - for various reasons - I canceled my flight and am staying home. Rupert and I have been hard at work on this project for several months. . . Our presentation will still go ahead, only now - instead of us sharing the podium - Rupert will be speaking in two part-harmony (one voice in a frock and the other in jacket & tie?). Thankfully, the internet has meant we've been able to construct, compose and co-ordinate this collaboration effectively over distance. 

During my years of ArtScience collaboration with polar biologist, Sam Bowser, I developed an abiding fascination for the DNA and RNA sequences of the protists we were studying and found myself looking for ways to incorporate them in various art forms, and in various ways. . . As odd as this may sound, DNA and RNA sequences look to me like poetry; when I read them, I hear music. . . It seemed a good idea, then, to transcribe their sequences into quasi-musical notation - why not 'play' the protist's DNA?  

So. . . Meet Gromia cf. oviformis, a microscopic hot-water-bottle-shaped single-celled critter abundant in Antarctic waters and the first of the protists we've paid 'musical attention' to. . . 

Watercolour painting by Sam Bowser

Gromia for whom home = the ocean floor closest to McMurdo Station, are lean and hungry-looking, while - for some yet-to-be-discovered reason - their relatives in Explorers Cove are spherical and fat. Same creatures, same species, same DNA sequence - and yet. . . (an interesting metaphor for our very own species?)

Below is an image of the RNA sequence for Gromia cf. oviformis. Rupert cleverly came up with a way to translate its various 4-letter configurations into musical notation, the result of which is an unusual, primitive and, I think, quite haunting piece of music. He will perform GromiaDNA on his Japanese shakuhachi in Canberra on Saturday, using the medium of sound to make a creature ordinarily invisible to the naked eye, visible. . . He'll play the sequence 'into' an atmospheric backdrop/stage set I've put together for the occasion - a 9min silent film of the eerie, icy waters inhabited by Gromia. I intend to post the film here later today. While some of the footage will be familiar to you from previous vids. (one of my wee boats makes an appearance - 'right-way-up' this time), there's plenty in it that's new. . .   

Anyway. . . when this sequence arrived in my e- InBox five years ago, it was accompanied by a challenge, 'I don't suppose you can make a poem out of this?' Well, yes! One can make a poem out of anything, right? And here it is - Gromia as (a sequence of) concrete* Tuesday Poems.  

In these next few images, Gromia gametes encounter the poetry of their own make-up, survey their DNA. . .

the encounter becomes a dance 

And - in keeping with the unpredictable nature of life - every so often a DNA sequence makes an impression on an unsuspecting pair of small white chairs. . .

For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill. This week's editor is Helen Rickerby with Margot or Margaux, a viscerally lush poem by Anna Jackson.

* concrete poetry: poetry in which the meaning or effect is conveyed partly or wholly by visual means, using patterns of words or letters and other typographical devices. 


  1. Cool. Poems should be everywhere possible.

  2. Oh Claire, this is so clever and creative. Your work never ceases to amaze--so versatile, so beautiful. :)

  3. This is absolutely incredible. I wish science and arts were bridged on a regular basis.

    THANK YOU for creating this:)

    Good thing you didn't leave, volcanic ash shut down the airport.

  4. As an engineer and what I like to think of as a poet, I thrill when science and the arts intersect.

    Your Antartic Project sounds fascinating (a place I have always wanted to visit) and your concrete DNA poems are wonderful.

    Best wishes

  5. U

    in XTC,
    and desperately seeking chairs.

    or, were i to change my name to my word verification, and i'm sorely tempted:
    su ming

  6. cbx caTTgaTaTtccaGataGacacCCtattacagGGa pmx

  7. so fabulous.

    i also read your later post in my google reader, and just want to say, i understand so well. you write so beautifully about the missing him, it is a poem itself.


  8. Its a funny thing but if you place an A and an N at the top or random places in amongst it all and glance quickly it reads Antarctica..well it does to me..I miss my boy when he's at school, and he's getting so big,I think of these things and wonder how it will be.
    I do like the dance sequence.x