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Lingonberries Are Not Sufficient: my first published poem


Being jilted and starting to write poetry
Carl Djerassi Scientist
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That woman who was present as chaperone there, the woman that I really deeply had fallen in love with at a time when I led a fairly promiscuous life... this was remember the 1970s which was certainly, all over the world and particularly in California... and people credit or blame the pill for this which I think is a gross over simplification, but I don’t accept the blame part anyway. If anything I would call it credit. I think it’s just overcrediting it, but I was certainly one of the beneficiaries of this, although I practised a certain element of chivalry, sexual chivalry if you wish, by having had maybe 10 years earlier a vasectomy because I felt very strongly that men should also take responsibility and I certainly didn’t want to have any children any more at age 50 something which was when I had a vasectomy. So I was very much in love with this woman and we more or less lived together. We didn’t live together all the time in the same house... she had lived at the ranch, but she was also a professor at Stanford and she lived in San Francisco Peninsula and we spent a lot of time together. And then she went on sabbatical to Harvard for a year and we saw quite a bit of each other, because I travelled often to the east coast and then we met in New York. Once, and I’ll never forget it, it was May 8, 1983. This is not the sort of date I usually... I have no recollection of any other dates... no, a recollection of one other date in June of that year. And there was a sad touch at that dinner that I was very much surprised about, and as we walked back to our hotel said... 'You know, I have fallen in love with someone else and we're through.' Now she was said it very kindly and politely, but it was a thunderbolt because I didn’t expect any of this. I felt very secure in this relationship and, you know, I tried to convince her a thing like this... I went so far, which was rather amazing, to say I was willing to accept a ménage à trois... not à trois in the same place, but if she wanted to have, you know, an affair with a man somewhere else or a relationship, that’s fine with me. Fine with me is wrong... but acceptable. But the answer was, no, absolutely no. We’re finished.

Well, gradually I felt... you know, then I went back home. In the end I felt... it was a typical male response, I felt outraged, revengeful, insulted, self-pitying, etc. And amazingly enough she was a Professor of Literature and a poet, and I started writing poems. I had never written a single poem in my life and there was an explosion of poetry... but explosion. I probably wrote 40 poems in a period of three or four months of bitter, nasty, revengeful, self-confessional... the sort of thing that poetry is for in part I suppose, but it’s certainly not publishable poetry. But as a typical scientist who always thinks that anything worth doing is worth publishing, the next thing I said, I was going to go and publish this poetry and sent it to... discovered that there are oodles of poetry magazines. The United States are flooded with them. And I sent them to them and I, as a scientist, was not accustomed... scientists of my calibre are not accustomed to rejections. And I just collected one rejection after another, which was very sobering, but then I actually learned a little bit. I’m a fast learner and I learned really how one deals in a poetry [unclear] and I learned how to... and I even became a better poet, and even elements of humour.

Austrian-American Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) was best known for his work on the synthesis of the steroid cortisone and then of a progesterone derivative that was the basis of the first contraceptive pill. He wrote a number of books, plays and poems, in the process inventing a new genre, 'science-in-fiction', illustrated by the novel 'Cantor's Dilemma' which explores ethics in science.

Listeners: Tamara Tracz

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: New York, Stanford University

Duration: 4 minutes, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008