karen donovan talks ribosomes & poetry

Ms. Donovan
Ms. Donovan

Here, at long last, is the Next Big Thing post from Karen Donovan!

Karen is the author of Fugitive Red (University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), which won the 1998 Juniper Prize for Poetry. Her poetry has appeared in journals such as FIELDSeneca ReviewConduitTHE GERM: A Journal of Poetic Research, Spiral Orb,and Prime Number. She was co-editor, with Walker Rumble, of the ¶: A Magazine of Paragraphs (where Pokey was thrilled to have some work many moons ago.). She works as the marketing and communications officer for The College Crusade of Rhode Island. (BTW, in case you want to read some of Karen’s work, here’s a link to a long poem of hers at Blackbird.)

I am especially pleased to host Karen’s post here, not just beacuse she’s so smart and I admire her work, but because it just so happens that lately, Pokey’s been having conversations with her daughter like this:

 Daughter:               I hate bio! I hate math! Why do I have to learn this? I’m going to be an artist! I’m never going to use any of this in my real life!

(Accompanied by much waving of arms, throwing about of one’s body and slumping over the counter.)

 Pokey Mama:        I know, I remember saying and feeling the exact same thing at your age. But now I love learning about weird science and math stuff and using it in my writing—maybe you’ll do the same thing with your art. Lots of artists do!

(This is Pokey at her best, when she’s not tired or stressed. So, about .06% of the time)

Imagine my delight, therefore, when Ms. Donovan’s post arrived in my in-box, chock full of poetry AND science.

yes, ribosomes!
Yes, ribosomes!

What is the title of your next book?

I just finished a final round of edits on a book-length poem. Next up for revision is my biochemistry book, which is called Ribosome 2.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Okay, so all the proteins in your body are made up of only 20 amino acids glued together, end to end, in a gazillion different
configurations. The ribosomes in your cells make every single protein this way, by reading the code in your genes and picking out the right amino acid to stick on next. It sounds crazy, but I found myself thinking about that all the time. Language as raw material that gets strung together into something useful to the body.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. And obsession.

Which actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie rendition?

I can hear a soundtrack with xylophone and tabla.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of this book?

Poet imagines being a ribosome; ribosome imagines being a poet.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The answer to that question is in the stars.

What other books would you compare this project to within your genre?

You’ve totally got me on that. Anything with sentences? This might be
a good time to say that I acknowledge a debt of gratitude for my

Karen's first book
Karen’s first book

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Amazement and grief, as usual.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I finished the first part of it in 2004 with a long poem called “5 Codon Sequences.” The next piece, called “Parts List Counted in Ogham,” took a few more years. Other pieces accumulated. Thanks a lot for helping me realize it’s been nine years so far.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Here’s a quote from Matt Ridley that I might use as an epigraph:

“Before the discovery of the genome, we did not know there was a document at the heart of every cell three billion letters long of whose content we knew nothing.”

                                                                 *     *     *

And there you have it ladies and germs. Can’t wait to have my daughter read this.

2 thoughts on “karen donovan talks ribosomes & poetry

  1. I’m so happy to see this posting from my brilliant friend Karen Donovan, the philosopher/scientist/poet. Read “Fugitive Red” and pray her next collections (yes – that’s plural, collectionS) are soon available.

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