a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Getting into Newark Junior College


Two poems
Carl Djerassi Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

Let me start with two poems. They are really quite short – because the first poem, literally the introduction to this small poetry chapbook [sic], that I spoke about yesterday, which in a way started my '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. 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, Diary Entry (11 August 1983)

Duration: 2 minutes, 28 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008