poetry & neuroscience


How do we communicate how we feel inside? Not just emotions, but our body sense, our pains, perhaps even the parts that are missing, or we never had…

Here are some of Ian’s poems that explore these issues:

from Lessons in Neuroscience

Lesson 1: Phantom Limb 
The space between my hands.

Like whiskey-tongued fishermen, shore-bound by Force Ten gales, I dream
about the ones that got away: snapper, mulloway, ocean trout, hammerhead,
fins slicing the sea into sashimi, carpaccio, butterfly fillets, jettisoned,
spinning and flipping and floating far from any dimly recollected grasp.

The gaps between my fingers,

as if they were feathers, as if they should span the imbalance dividing
this updraught from that, this diminishing shadow from its source,
this invisible calculation defining lift and drag, streamlined flight and
unrecoverable freefall, from this total, irredeemable, loss of sensibility.

The space between my hands, the gaps between my fingers:

only now can I describe the shapes that fill my memory; only now can I
describe the holdfasts, the hefts, the weights, the locks and latches, the keys
misplaced forever; only now, can I describe, for you, a tattoo needle,
a wedding ring, collisions, inadequate light, unbidden, insufficient narcosis.

~ Lessons in Neuroscience is published in full in urban biology ~

from entorhinal

PMID: 25786788
39º 59′ 05″ N
77º 06′ 47″ W
[ Potomac / definitively awake, compelling / spanned, point to point ]

A chasm we cannot avoid: on one side, coalescing planetary shadows,
spiral-arm galaxies, birthed from supernovae and gravitational collapse;
on the other, the monumental scree of eroding dynasties, royal families
shrilled with golden tarnish and quicksilver tar. The link? Appalachia.
Caledonia. Sahara. Immobile without destination, we circle, await
specialist interpreters, accredit a new generation of bridge makers.

entorhinal is based on a series of scientific articles about place and grid neurons. It is published in full in Rabbit 17: Geography (2016).

Sometimes it hurts

When you come to me
I feel your heat before your touch,
I feel the wind, hot, from a mid-summer
night, prickling with dried leaves,
endlessly irritable crickets, incipient thirst,
with the inevitable sunrise that follows,
that, in this climate of ill-defined seasons,
threatens fire before our first morning breath.

When you come to me,
I shiver like a violin string;
in cold sweat, my lip glistens with
dew-drops, my skin draws tight, tighter,
constricts my arteries and veins, a thunderbolt
blinds my shadows, ghostly spectres haunt
my path, sing storm-wracked sirens’ songs,
disguise ancient fog-bound shipping hazards.

When you come to me,
I count all the stars across the sky,
the sandgrains on the beach, in the desert,
the heartbeats I always lose, the pangs
I fear as your caresses slip unguided
into the voids of boundless space, as each
and nearly every one of your kisses falls
into unacknowledged whispers around me.


Most women experience genital pain at some time in their lives, 
but for surprisingly many, it is always there…

~ Published  in ‘Flying Kites: Friendly Street Poets 36’ (2012) and in ‘Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain’, edited by Heather Taylor Johnson, (UWAP, 2017) ~

Cataplexy is a rare neurological condition in which people spontaneously enter a deep dream-like state, often in response to intense emotions. This poem has been published in e•ratio with a video. Read it here and watch the video below.

Read Dr Korsakoff and Colleagues Report  published in Southerly here.

See more about Ian’s science here.