EDNOTE.  Professor Fet is a longtime NABOKV-L contributor--as well as being a specialist in scorpions and poet.








Sunday, July, 16, 2006







Poetry of science


Marshall professor combines passions of biology and poetry




It isn't enough for Marshall biology professor Victor Fet to teach a full load of classes, attend seminars, and regularly publish papers on scorpion systematics and biology ­-- he is also a prolific and published poet.

Fet, who received a National Geographic Society research grant in 2002 to travel to Central Asia and a 2005 Fulbright Foundation award to spend six months in Bulgaria in pursuit of scorpion research, has published two books of poetry, "Under the Glass" (2000) and "Many Things Unclear" (2004), both in Russia. In 2001, he won the Hawthornden International Writers Retreat award which gave him a stipend and allowed him to spend a month in a Scottish castle, writing poems in Russian. As a native Russian, Dr. Fet sees poetry as more of a responsibility than a pastime.

"In Russian culture, a unique value was placed on poets, and it is still strongly perceived as both the gift and responsibility," Fet said. "For my generation, poetry personified intellectual and emotional freedom. At the same time, for me as a naturalist the rich traditional medium of the Russian formal, metered, and rhymed verse is important as it allows to explore and discover emotional landscapes (whether real or mythical) offered by the modern science and its world outlook."


The biologist's viewpoint appears periodically in Fet's poetry, as indicated in the title of his first book, "Under the Glass." In the winter 2002 edition of World Literature Today, a reviewer described Fet's poetry as "acutely aware of a profound biological enigma lying at the root of all life: the world of genes and chromosomes, the delicate and fragile nature of which is still not sufficiently understood."


This enigma is felt in Fet's poem, "Long Ago." Here he evokes the kernel of creation which lies within our DNA:


Long ago we forgot

our primary instructions,

of the time when our skeleton

was fashioned from stardust,

and for many years from the eternal

matrix of the existence

were put together in a careless meter

the magic words.


Born in West Siberia, Fet emigrated to the United States in 1987 during a time of change in the Soviet Union that led to the eventual breakdown of that empire. Prior to his emigration, he worked several years as a zoologist with the national park system along the Russian border with Iran and Afghanistan. Following the demise of the Soviet Union, hundreds of Russian intellectuals were scattered around the globe.


"Our experience is unique in the modern world in many ways," said Fet. "We inherited a beautiful and versatile language, in which arguably the best Slavic literature was written. This literature, and first of all Russian poetry, written and spoken, carried a true spiritual function through the most unfortunate 20th century of the Russian history. Frozen in the ice of Stalin's Gulags, and later sung clandestinely at the students' bonfires, the banned poetry was woven into the texture of our lives. It shaped our world outlook not less that Homeric poetry shaped that of his age."


One could say that poetry is a part of Fet's own gene structure. Thus, finding time to write is not a problem for him despite his demanding schedule and career.


"I write anytime, and amount of time does not matter," he said. "It is a very different kind of writing than academic work. The two kinds of writing, in my case, actually help each other. It is a question of concentrating and bringing a right emotion, I can write in a crowd, in an airport, in my head while walking or driving, etc. On the contrary, for me it is hard to imagine how I would write if I had unlimited free time for poetry only, but then it would be a very different life."

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