A conversation with Sabrina Imbler, science journalist and author of Dyke (Geology), which tells the story of Kohala - the island of Hawaii’s most ancient volcano - and of a break-up, in a hybrid work combining science writing, poetry, and personal essay.
“A dyke, according to geology, is a sheet of magma born in a fracture. Dykes are best understood as the veins of a volcano, coursing hot and varicose toward the surface to erupt. Because of this, dykes are always younger than the body of rock in which they’ve made their home. Born differently than the mother rock, they make their presence known in rebel coloration: black against white, striped against mottled, crystal against sand. Geologists consider dykes intrusive formations, in part because they were formed underground until exposed.”
An excerpt from Dyke (Geology) by Sabrina Imbler
On the chapbook’s origin story
“It was for a college writing assignment. I didn’t have an idea for how I wanted to write about it, but I knew I wanted to write about a break-up I had just gone through," said Imbler.
“I was walking by a used bookstore, and they had a $1 book sale out in front. They had a children’s picture book called The Birth of an Island...it had these beautiful illustrations about how volcanoes form, and how they emerge and how they erupt.
“I write a lot about myself, I think, but I feel uncomfortable writing directly about myself. I like to sort of transpose myself onto an object or a creature, and in this case, I wondered what would it be like to write about this break-up through the perspective of a volcano.”
On science and technical jargon as poetry
“Most of the research for this book happened on Wikipedia. The title comes from the Wikipedia pages for one of the many pages that describe ‘dyke,’ and this one just happened to be ‘dyke (geology). There’s also ‘dyke (slang).’
“I felt very inspired by the hyperlinking wormholes that Wikipedia invites you to go into. For geology, it’s a field I had almost no familiarity with, so whenever there was an interesting word, I just clicked on it.
“I didn’t know that ‘dyke’ was such a frequent and commonly used word in geology.”
On the dangers of anthropomorphization
“When I’m not writing very horny books about volcanoes, I do a lot of science journalism, and I mainly write about more charismatic creatures like bugs or shrimps.
“But anthropomorphization is something that comes up a lot in science writing, and it’s something that I always try to steer clear of. It can be irresponsible and sort of dangerous to try to understand creatures and their lives through the ways that we understand our own, both because it can mean that we misunderstand those creatures and also because it can sometimes come at the cost of the humans we’re comparing them to.
“I recently did this story about shipworms, which are a kind of clam - they look more like worms but they’re technically a mollusk - and their unusual sexual practices, which include large sessions of group sex with lots of spawning at the same time and simulataneous rhythmic consecutive hermaphrodism. And there were a lot of stories that came out about that study that sort of led with like, ‘shipworms are having orgies on boats! Shipworms are all polyamorous!’
“When I talked to the scientists, they were frustrated… because they had spent all this time researching and documenting and carefully documenting the way shipworms mate, and then they come out with this study and someone picks it up and calls it an orgy.
“We have great responsibility as science communicators to be careful and compassionate towards the subjects that we talk about, and to try to make their stories resonate for a broader audience, but not at the expense of communicating the complexity that they carry.
“With this…I felt like there would be less of the danger of miscommunicating the actual sex lives of volcanoes. Turning a volcano into a creature that can feel queer desire, I felt like I wasn’t going to give someone the wrong impression about volcanoes.”