Physicist recites poems in native languages that resonate with personal experiences

The Etownian February 23, 2012 0

On Feb. 28, there will be a poetry reading by Dr. Ilan Gravé, associate professor of physics and engineering, at the Bowers Writers House. His presentation is called “From Quantum Wells to Dante’s Inferno: How a Physicist Can Appreciate Poetry.” Many students might consider physics and poetry to be a bizarre combination, but it’s one that works surprisingly well.

Gravé grew up in Israel and Italy. He got his physics and electrical engineering degree at Tel Aviv University in Israel and acquired his Ph.D. in applied physics from California Institute of Technology. Before he joined the physics and engineering department at Etown in 2002, he worked with high-tech avionic projects in Israel. Gravé also worked at Fondazione Ugo Bordoni (FUB), a research institute in Rome, as a senior scientist consultant and taught at the University of Pittsburgh. Aside from physics and engineering, Gravé’s interests include Middle East international affairs, Italian and Hebrew literature and poetry, contract bridge and soccer, according to his profile on the College’s website.

If you think that this poetry reading is all about physics, you are wrong. “This poetry reading will actually be about my life in Italy and Israel and all the traveling I have done. I will also be reading a few poems from Giacomo Leopardi and Wislawa Szymborska, who just died recently, some Israeli poems, Italian poems and also American poems,” Gravé said.

Some of Gravé’s favorite poets are Robert Frost, Edgar Lee Masters and Giacomo Leopardi. He likes poems that leave a mark on him. “The poems that I am going to be reading have meaningful connections to the stages of my life and some pieces are associated with specific events in my life. I can speak Italian and Hebrew, and the Israeli poems at this reading will be about the birth and difficulties in Israel,” he added.

Gravé speaks Italian, Hebrew, French and English. In every language, he has found a particular connection to poetry, coming from different angles.

For example, some of the works of Israeli poets that he will read have a background in a number of themes that have deeply influenced Jewish life, from ancient testament evocations, to Holocaust tragedies and horrors, to the struggle for the birth of the state of Israel. Sometimes poems end up as the lyrics of popular songs; some of these songs enhance the magic of poetry, and Gravé will share some beautiful songs with the audience.

The idea for this talk began when chatting with the director of the Bowers Writers House, Jesse Waters, about poetry. Gravé and Waters found themselves discussing some Italian poetry, and Waters asked if Gravé could give a talk about his love and connection to poetry. “I’m not an expert on poetry. It is a hobby and I usually keep it for myself,” Gravé said, but he agreed to give this talk.

“In my 24 years at Etown, this is the first event from the physics and engineering department participating with the Bowers Writers House,” professor of physics Dr. William Stuckey said. “Gravé is a great guy. He cares a lot about his students, and he spends many hours on his lectures for his classes.” Associate Professor of Physics Dr. Sara Atwood agreed with Stuckey. “[Gravé] brings a lot of perspectives to the department because of his travels and projects he did in other countries,” she said. “I think that it’s great that Gravé is doing something like this because it shows the very characteristic of our department. It shows our interests from outside our careers.”

When he is not thinking about physics, engineering and his professional works, he tries to find time to read poetry.

“I like the interdisciplinary ideas our department creates. I think that it shapes a person because they are more outside of their comfort zones,” Stuckey said. “I am very curious about this event and I think that it will turn out great.”

Atwood agreed with Stuckey and feels that the department should do more things like this. “It is great for students to know that their professors have other interests outside physics and engineering. We, the professors, chose to teach at Etown because it is a liberal arts institution. We are able to showcase our interests and combine them together,” Atwood said.

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