ARUN RATH, HOST:
Last winter, a poet arrived at the end of the earth. Her mission - to somehow capture life in Antarctica. Now Jynne Dilling Martin has published a collection of poems inspired by her experience. It's called "We Mammals In Hospitable Times." Jynne, welcome.
JYNNE DILLING MARTIN: Thank you so much, Arun. I'm so pleased to be here.
RATH: So first we have to talk about how these poems - or where these poems came into being. Can you explain how you ended up in Antarctica?
MARTIN: Absolutely. I was fortunate enough to be given a grant by the National Science Foundation to spend last winter - or their summer, actually - down there shadowing various scientists in their work and studying what they did, getting to spend the days with them. And out of that emerged many of the poems that are in this new collection.
RATH: And this is the place called McMurdo Station in the Antarctic.
MARTIN: Exactly. Those who have seen Werner Herzog's documentary will be very familiar with what it's like down there at the station. It's the main American base in the Antarctic.
RATH: And you were able while you were down there - you were on, you know, Instagram and blogging and writing dispatches with a great deal of enthusiasm.
MARTIN: Yes, I think one of the funniest things about Antarctica is you, you know, go to the bathroom in a bucket. You're heating frozen meals over a tiny little Coleman camp stove in a - in an igloo or in a small tent. But there is Wi-Fi all over the continent.
MARTIN: It's really because a lot of the science happening down there requires regular transmission of its data and details back to the States. In fact, a lot of the Weather Service apparently gets their data from Antarctica. So there is in fact Wi-Fi, even though there's almost no other imaginable creature comfort.
RATH: Some of the poems in this collection are inspired by specific people you met down there. I'd like if you could read from a poem called "What Breaks First."
RATH: And let me precede this by saying that this was a poem inspired by a submarine pilot?
MARTIN: Yes. Yeah, he drove submarines for the U.S. Navy for many years. (Reading) What breaks first? As the iceberg shears off the submarine periscope, the noise is less groan, more wild animal shriek. Trust me, said the captain, piloting toward gunfire to see what the Russians are up to these days. The sea ice resembles a cracked white lung steadily swelling then sinking as high tide fades away. Already birds and barnacles and butterflies are shifting their habitats pole-ward. The eelgrass and jellyfish will be fine, but the basements of coastal cities will begin to flood an inch at a time.
RATH: In something that comes across very much in the poems is there's a lot of reflection on time. Not only are you in a place where things literally move glacially, but you were there when the sun never went down.
MARTIN: Yeah. I so appreciate your noticing that. And it was something I didn't expect going to Antarctica. I expected the vastness of space and of landscape and how enormous - and in fact it's even more enormous than you can possibly fathom or can ever be captured in a photo or video. I did not expect how up close I would be with the enormity of time.
But being where scientists are pulling 800,000-year-old ice up out of a glacier and you can chip it off and drink it in your whiskey, where there's fossils from 300 million years ago when Antarctica was still in the northern hemisphere and there were forests and jungles. Or there's a place where the neutrinos traveling from 10 million light years away, from other galaxies, are falling into this ice cube trap they created, and exploding in blue light. And to be up close, and see and taste and touch, like, vast ancient history or faraway places was to be confronted with a sense of time that I have never felt or had that kind of scale. It was so humbling.
RATH: And on a personal level, right, I guess even more like a, you know, biological level of your body rhythms, your circadian rhythms, how - did that kind of mess with you, your perception of time?
MARTIN: Yeah, the 24 hours of sunlight is, I think, actually just as upsetting in a different way than 24 hours of darkness. It's sort of that feeling that you sometimes have if you're really nervous or drunk too much coffee, and you're both exhausted, yet unable to sort of shut down.
RATH: You've written these poems about a place that most people will never have the opportunity to visit. What is a thing about Antarctica that you most want people to take away?
MARTIN: I think what Antarctica gave me is also what poetry gives me, and it's space and time not to be so busy, anxious, solipsistic, self-consumed, that we don't see how tiny and infinitesimal our own life is, and yet how tied it is to everything that came before, everything that will come and everything that's around us.
RATH: Jynne Dilling Martin's collection of poems about Antarctica is "We Mammals In Hospitable Times." Jynne, thanks very much. This was a pleasure.
MARTIN: Thank you so much, Arun.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.