Monday, January 16, 2017

Tribute to a Poet


Poet and retired professor of Kalamazoo College died last week.  He was known best for most people for his poetry frequently found in a local magazine, Encore.  I remember him fondly for a presentation he gave at the an annual meeting of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, & Letters almost 30 years ago.

He was the featured speaker at the luncheon attended by members of the various sections of the Academy.  I think we all found more reason to appreciate poetry for its various benefits.  I don't remember all the points he talked about and illustrated with readings of some of his poems, but one I recall vividly.

Showing how simple or mundane things can be appreciated more with poetic reflection, he read a poem about the the knife and fork.  It was immediately followed by a poem entitled "The Spoon".  The poem consisted of three words, "I work alone."  Wow, it had great impact with me, in part from its inclusion with the entirety of his presentation.

Seeing how poets can encapsulate larger concepts in simple observations launched me in to one of my never completed endeavors.  I had been impressed by the selections displayed at the Detroit Art Museum (title uncertain), including a floor or major section devoted to works of Black artists.  I thought, if poetry can make me appreciate a spoon, couldn't poets write poems about works of art that would give us greater appreciation of a work of art?

Today's holiday commemorates one of my heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King.  It may be just a coincidence the application of poems to art was conceived as leading to a program involving inner city schools using it to develop a poetry-art project to stimulate academic achievement among the youth of the city.

With Kalamazoo having a high density of poets and an excellent small art institute, I thought I should start closer to home.  I worked out a theoretical approach of having a competition of artists making poems about works of art possessed by the institute.  They would then select the best for an assortment of art works.  The they could be put in a guide book for patrons to use when viewing the pictures.  Their evaluation of pictures would be compared to evaluations by a control group, given a booklet of standard information about the pictures without the poems, with an exit poll.

If exit polls showed benefits from using the poems, programs to involve students could be developed.

It could be done without much expense, costs to arrange the exhibit, provide coffee and munchies for the poets, print booklets and materials for the poets competition, and perhaps other expenses could be defrayed by a very small grant from a local art fund.  When I checked with them it was the wrong time of the year for submissions.  The art institute had shown some interest and I left them with a copy of my proposal.  The grant proposal seemed more work than needed, I thought of seeing if the local poets group would be interested in doing it, but then, typical for me, I went on to other things.

Joseph G. Engemann    Kalamazoo, Michigan    January 16, 2017

Thursday, January 12, 2017




Many discoveries are due to chance or an unexpected observation.  Such discoveries are more likely to occur if the observer is alert to the environment.  How many people noticed a zone of no bacterial growth adjacent to a mold colony before Sir Alexander Fleming did, but did not pause to consider the cause? Fleming's discovery of penicillin's inhibition of bacteria provided the model for discovery of many additional antibiotics.


The search for additional antibiotics was a logical expansion of the serendipitous discovery of penicillin.  Targeted research is common in the research and development units of many companies.  Universities used to be primarily focused on basic research that might, or might not, have commercial application.  Now, research faculty have one eye on the potential valuable uses that might sway granting agencies to provide greater monetary support.


Recognition of value of research can escape others, especially when it is novel and/or goes counter to accepted thinking of leaders in the subject area.  The significance of Mendel's studies of inheritance in peas was not given much recognition until thirty some years later when it complemented the understanding of chromosomes in genetics.

I think it may be thirty years after I die before zoologists and evolutionary biologists will become aware of how (1) extreme age is a characteristic of abyssal organisms, (2) the stable deep-sea environment provided a refuge for survival during celestial bombardment by asteroids etc. during the early history of life on earth, (3) one such surviving group was the Pogonophora which (4) show the embryological and morphological connection of protostome ancestors to deuterostomes such as vertebrates, and (5) illustrate the error of ancestral trees that ignore the effects of generation time in calculating branching patterns.

The five points mentioned have been discussed in earlier posts of this blog and may be enough to help some curious scientist of the future to set the record straight.  Much of the information can be found in a hypothetical discussion of invertebrates in the final chapter of the 1981 3rd edition of Engemann and Hegner's Invertebrate Zoology published by Macmillen Publishing Company.  Points 4 and 5 were arrived at shortly after I realized the theory proposed in the final chapter represented reality.

At eighty-eight I do not expect to be here for nearly as long as the twenty years I have been retired.  And low energy and memory lapses are more frequent.  I think I have included the basics of what is important in my work in this blog.  So now I may go to some unpublished work of mine of less consequence to the accurate understanding of evolution.  In fact, I had started one on eyelines and coevolution when it disappeared with a wrong keystroke.  I have typed this with greater care and have to get my computer's word-processing and photo programs fixed so I can work more efficiently.  If you have read this far, thank you.

Joseph Engemann,  Emeritus Professor of Biology, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo.  January 12, 2017