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When art and diatoms collide

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12 August, 2016

Mark Edlund

A new book of poetry, You This Close, by Minnesota writer Su Smallen incorporates diatoms, rivers, science, and the happenings of nature in poems that explore how diatomaceous imagery provides meaning to emotions, relationships and love.

Su conceived the book during her residency as the Artist at Pine Needles at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s St. Croix Watershed Research Station. Artists reside at the Pine Needles cabin, built in 1918 on a bluff overlooking the St. Croix River, for up to a month. The opportunity affords artists to experience the life of the river and to interact with scientists, discerning how science intersects with art.

Co-Artist at Pine Needles, Jessica Zeglin, provided illustrations for the book. Jessica gratefully acknowledges that she “relied on the excellent website Diatoms of the United States to provide visual guides” for her artistic representations.


Selected from the poem Desire,

Newborn diatoms are huge, in micron terms.
They happily divide until they’re small
Enough for sex. Consider desire
As photosynthesis, in the sense of

Awaiting light. Diatoms chain themselves,
Sometimes, into tasty arrays converting
Sunlight. But they might not get to have sex.
They might get eaten. Thus, by sex or by

Delicacy, diatoms synthesize happiness
And it’s floating down this river. *

  • Su Smallen, You This Close, Red Dragonfly Press (2016)