Genes and Poems: Creating Form and Meaning

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Spring 2019 quarter

Taught by

genetics, molecular biology
poetry and literary arts, community studies/Middle East studies, journalism

What is a gene? What is a poem? This program aims to investigate parallels and intersections between the basic units of life and language. What is the relationship between meaning and form? What elements do a gene and a poem need to be effective? What are the properties of translation, transcription, interpretation and rendering, and how do they affect access and meaning? How do we measure when a form is complete?

In this program we will explore genes and poems as separate and connected entities. In the process we will consider how we create meaning and connections through processes such as parallelism, allegory, and metaphor. In poetry this will include reading and writing of literary, spoken-word and experimental forms, including free verse and patterned poems ranging from rhymed couplets to the more intricate villanelles and sestinas. Revisions to our original poems will be heavily emphasized. We will also participate in local poetry events, such as spoken-word performances and literary poetry readings. In biology we will examine the history of the gene, a term that has changed its meaning from an abstract particle of inheritance, to a unit of DNA sequence encoding a protein to a script for synthesizing imagined new functions. We will introduce the principles of genetics and molecular biology and carry out experiments in the laboratory.

Program activities will include lectures, workshops, labs, field trips, guest speakers, and films. Student learning will be assessed by a program portfolio, writing assignments, exams, formal reading of original poems or spoken-word pieces, and a lab notebook. Credits equivalencies may be awarded in introductory biology and introductory poetry.

Program Details

Fields of Study

biology literature writing

Preparatory For

biology, poetry and literary arts, and education.


Spring Open

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning