“We could convert houseplants into power generators for charging phones”

2014 03 15 moss-09

Call it an instrument of moss conduction. It’s like the grown-up version of that potato battery you made in grade school. Not quite as efficient as regular photovoltaic solar cells, but more eco-friendly to manufacture. Putting plants to work …


Herb is the Verb a great success! (pics)

Last week, students from UBC Okanagan’s Theory of Creative Writing class (CRWR260) gave their audience and passers-by a unique digital literary experience. The event was a real-time, collaborative composition using Twitter as its medium, and VisibleTweets as its visual platform.

Verbage3 - Hartley quote

Writing students have been investigating how current research in plant science challenges traditionally-held concepts of organisms’ liveliness, cognition, feeling and sentience. They have worked in collaboration with students from BIOC301, the plant biochemistry class run by Dr. Susan Murch. In response to poetic texts and sound poems read live over a microphone by their professor (moi) and their peers, and using the hashtag #vherbage, students tweeted lines of text composed spontaneously and/or texts collaged from written conversations with the plant science students.  Tweets scrolled in real time across large screens set up in the public foyer of the Fipke Building, where members of the university community, some who came for the event, and others who were just passing by or waiting in line to get their cup of coffee, were able to read the poem as it was being created.

The tweets will be curated into one multi-authored online poem which will appear on the collaboratively created website (not live yet!) that is the class’s final project.

The event was a great way to showcase interdisciplinary work between our fine arts students and science students, and to introduce new pedagogies and forms of writing to a wider audience. To my students: way to go, guys. Looking forward to seeing what you write for our final digital project! 

Thanks to the Department of Creative Studies, to Dr. Susan Murch, Paul Marck, and the Celebrate Research Week team for their help.

Verbage5 - Hebert quote

#VHERBAGE !! tomorrow (tue) at 11 am PST

2014 03 03 Call Any Vegetable

Tomorrow at 11 am at #UBCO in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada: CRWR 260 students perform the real-time composition of the Twitter-poem #vherbage.

Our themes as always: art and science collaboration, plant consciousness as an idea that challenges accepted notions of learning and knowing, innovations in writing.

Join in – we would love input from the wider world into this publicly-written poem. Find us at #vherbage on Twitter or on the public screencast – tomorrow, 11 am for about 20-30 minutes. Or just watch the tweets roll in here.

Text generated during the performance will be the basis of the final poem that you will be able to find at the digital poetry website vherbage.ok.ubc.ca when it is launched in late April.

And to give you a taste of the soundtrack that will back the live event, here’s Frank Zappa reminding us to Call Any Vegetable.

See you at the Fipke foyer if you’re on campus, otherwise see you online tomorrow!

Ottawa Event: Plant Intelligence – Rethinking Thinking – March 18

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Heads up Ottawa peeps. Canadian National Herbarium botanist Paul Sokoloff will be speaking about how dumb plants may not be on Tuesday March 18 at 7 pm at the Canadian #MuseumofNature. Check it out.

Herb, Herb, Herb …. Herb Is The Verb at #UBCO

Plant11 - Tasha and Sasha

Students from the 2013 CRWR 260 class speak in front of live tweet stream.

On March 4, this year’s Creative Writing 260 class and I will do a live public Twitter performance poem in Fipke Foyer at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, as part of UBCO’s Celebrate Research Week –  events schedule here.

It’s called “Herb Is the Verb”: a digital-social media-sound-text event that meditates on the plant-body-mind interactions we experience in life and language. Tune in at 11 am Pacific Time / 2 pm EST, hashtag #vherbage!

Tweet to a Plant?

2014 02 14 talk-to-a-plant-denver-museum

They did it for science at talktoaplant.com.

Denver Museum of Nature and Science went digital with the classic Talk To The Plant And See If It Grows experiment. They had the public tweet in their words of encouragement or discouragement to #talktoaplant, and tweets were transformed via software into speech directed at one plant while another was kept in identical, but silent, atmospheric conditions.

The interactive show was noticed by Adweek and HuffPost.

This writer from the Hyderabad-based newspaper Deccan Chronicle responds to the Tweet To a Plant project by reminding readers that Dhanvantri, the founder of Ayurvedic practice, used his own body as the instrument by which to tune in to plants:

“Dhanvantri came to know and record the medicinal qualities of most of the plants. He did not have any scientific tools for his research. But he had the most effective tool, the art of meditation, being in absolute silence, pulsating in sync with heart beats of the plants.”

Hey, DMNS, I missed the live plant-cam. Did you publish the results? Did the myth get busted or did the idea that tweeting wasn’t going to make a difference get busted?

Michael Pollan’s “The Intelligent Plant”

Dr. Monica Gagliano of Australia listens to her plants.

Dr. Monica Gagliano of the University of Western Australia listens to her plants.

I’ve been waiting for this: Michael Pollan explains the latest in plant neurobiology to the world in this impressive New Yorker article. The Vancouver conference he discusses is the same one that Susan Murch coordinated and at which I presented a talk about this-here-blog!

I met Pollan at the conference: a tall, inquisitive man in hiking boots whose reputation preceded him. I was there at Gagliano’s talk, where she was taken to task for using the word “learning,” and watched during the coffee break as Pollan fielded the attentions of scientists eager to weigh in on the paper that had so clearly piqued Pollan’s interest.

My own talk went into the history of debates over the term irritability versus reaction versus instinct, before introducing the aims of this blog and my teaching collaboration with Dr. Murch. Most of the plant scientists were kindly in their reception – “It’s so nice to have artists join our community” – but Monica Gagliano was one of the few who approached me to say, “We’re working on the same thing, from different angles.”

“Scientists are often uncomfortable talking about the role of metaphor and imagination in their work, yet scientific progress often depends on both,” writes Pollan. His account captures, as did some of the eighteenth-century writings on the “sensitivity” of the mimosa pudica, the way a flash point in scientific literary production is deeply, never trivially, a question of semantics.

The history of the narration of plants’ intelligent behaviour is a lesson for any student of literary production: it’s all about naming and narrating what we see, with an awareness of how the words we use shape that seeing.

Thanks to Nancy Holmes, Zach Wells, Paul Marck and Susan Murch for the heads-up.