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Two poems
Carl Djerassi Scientist
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Let me start with two poems– they are really quite short – because the first poem, literally the introduction to this small poetry chapbook, the book about yesterday, which in a way started my quote literary career if you do want to call it that, is the following. And it was entitled "Exhortation". How does a chemist Transmute himself into a poet? Synthesise a poem? Distil its essence? Filter its impurities? Evaporate it to dryness? Stop the sophistry! Write the poem. So that was the exhortation to writing the poem, but then literally- Shortly after this sort of disastrous emotional episode that I spoke about yesterday in 1983 here’s one that’s entitled "Diary Entry (11 August 1983)" This was already after my traumatic separation, but it showed already how I wrote literature at that time. I remember I was a typically super active scientist, chemist and yet I wrote all the time at that stage at scientific readings and so on. So here we sit in Copenhagen: Chemists from a dozen countries. The talk is heavy; the words are long. Male contraception, Cures for cancer, Morphine substitutes, Drugs from the sea, Medicines for the year 2000. We’ve mouthed these words for many years, Formulae hiding the chemists. Who are these colleagues, students, strangers? What do they do besides chemistry? If this were the Holiday Inn, Not the Royal Danish Academy, Would I guess who they are? A convention of grocers? Too serious. Car salesmen? Too little polyester. Bankers? Lawyers? No vests. Clergymen? wrong collars. Poets? Nobody smokes. How did they come to chemistry? What do they do besides chemistry? What do I do besides what I do besides chemistry?

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: Exhortation

Duration: 2 minutes, 28 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008