This Poet’s Microscopic Poem Can Live in Your Body

If you’re a poetry fan, you’ve probably heard someone talk about a poem that’s so connected to their personal identity that it “lives inside of them”. It’s a very telling sentiment, depending on the poem. It’s also the launching pad for one poet’s ambitious experiment to create a poem that can physically live inside of you.

Jen Bervin, a New York visual artist and writer, started her project by observing scientists at the Tufts University Silk Lab in Medford, Mass. as they liquefied silk cucoons to create ‘silk biosensors’. These small patches are biocompatible, meaning can be placed anywhere in the body and be accepted by a patient’s immune system. In order for these sensors to work, they need some kind of textured pattern – such as the texture words give to paper.  

An excerpt of the completed poem (Image: Jen Bervin)

While you might think shrinking a poem down to nanoscopic size would be the hard part, Bevin dedicated most of her creative effort to the ‘how’ of the piece. It took her more than three years research, with the aid of scientists from around the world, to figure out her form. Everything she created was done with respect to the structure of the molecules and the way the silk is created. The poem’s resulting shape looks much like the winding patterns of a silkworm’s weaving would on a molecular level.

As for how the poem reads? Naturally, it musing over the “cultural, scientific, and linguistic complexities” of silk, written from the perspective of a silkworm. The entire piece is book-length, but Bevins shared the opening lines of the poem with The Huffington Post:

It is said that silk filature began

in China under a mulberry tree
in a teacup resting
lightly in the slender hand
of the empress Hsi-ling Shi

A brin unfurls from the frisson tangle
and she reaches in
begins to reel
from the soft envelope of the cocoon


That is how people like to tell it

You know
the Nigerian proverb
Until the lions have their own historians,
history will always be told by the hunters

If you don’t know it
why not

The entire epic can be read, through a microscope, at the Explode Everyday exhibit at MASS MoCA in Massachusetts. Watch Bevins explain her project in the video below:

Featured image courtesy of Charlotte Legard / Creative Capital