Dr. Thea Iberall is not an ordinary poet, but a multi-talented one who integrates knowledge from a variety of disciplines into her work. She enjoys challenges and often spends time studying subjects because they intrigue her. Right now, for example, she wishes she had time to get a Ph.D. in comparative linguistics; two months ago she was studying the Kabbalah. If you want to put labels on Dr. Iberall's accomplishments, call her an educator, scientist, playwright, magician, researcher, videographer, and performance poet. In one previous phase of her life, she was even a professional clown.
Her website www.theaiberall.com is an adventure in poetry. Dr. Iberall has two examples of her contextual poetry, a form she developed out of sheer frustration with our current educational system. What is contextual poetry? As she explains it, the form integrates the knowledge of science and history with the author's understanding of lyric language. Scientists use the left side of their brains for logical and analytic thinking. To create more balance, Dr. Iberall developed contextual poetry so she could involve both sides of her brain in her writing. She likes to draw on the full depth of human endeavor, but finds our educational system doesn't provide people with a context. We think Greek relates to college fraternities and Latin is something inscribed on money. So she augments each poem with a short essay, not to explain the poem, but to give the reader insights that resonate with the poem. As she points out, this poetic form is in reality not new. In the 18th century, scientist and poet Erasmus Darwin did something similar, and indeed even influenced Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Shelley who also wrote extended prose prefaces to their work. As you read her poems, a clear mental image forms in your mind of what she communicates. One contextual poem, "The Evolutionary Record," for example, concerns the human hand and how women probably invented writing. This poem wasn't just written from observations of her own hand; her doctoral dissertation was a computational neuroscientific study of the human hand, and the essay for the poem traces its evolutionary formation to today's use or nonuse.
I asked Dr. Iberall what piece of her work does she return to because of its positive emotional effect in her life. Without hesitation, she said her poem "Abracadabra." "It's become my signature piece. It's the poem that starts off my performances." The poem is carefully constructed, she says. "On the surface it is talking about our language's attachment to words. But it is really talking about levels of friendship from superficial ones to life-long friends. All my poems work at two layers." And the context? "It's about languages, Hebrew, Indo-European, and Old English."
In addition to her scientific and poetic skills, Dr. Iberall is an accomplished author. She has been published in anthologies, newspapers, and print and web journals. Her plays, for both adults and children, have been shown in theaters in Southern California. The children's musical "At Seven" that she wrote with her sister Penni Rubin, is touring schools in the Toledo Ohio area through June 2007 and is being produced by The Toledo Repertoire Theatre. "I loved working with my sister," she says. "I think I am in awe of my family. I've made videos about them. And they are both hugely supportive and inspirational to me. I am developing a one-woman show combining my performance poems with some of the crazy things we have done together, like visiting active volcanoes and singing Russian folksongs with cosmonauts on the island of Santorini."
And her accomplishments don't end there, as she has published over 25 scientific papers. Probably the highlight of Dr. Iberall's scientific research was the publication of the book "The Grasping Hand" written with Canadian kinesiologist Christine MacKenzie. "It was my father who pushed me into science," Iberall says, "which was good and bad. Many of my poems are about my coming to terms with the pain and joy he gave me. I am grateful we were finally best buds when he died in 2002. Without the traumas of my life, I wouldn't have developed my core trust in a power greater than myself running my life. There is so much more to the unseen workings of the universe than our scientific theories can explain. This is why I am not just a scientist and why I am not just a poet."
When I met Dr. Iberall last summer, we were both guest poets at Don "Kingfisher" Campbell's Upward Bound English class at Occidental College in Eagle Rock, CA. And while she was there to educate the teenage students, I learned from her as well. The independent and emotional spirit of her poetry captured the attention and involvement from everyone in the room. Doing a few magic tricks in anapestic tetrameter didn't hurt either.
One aspect of Dr. Iberall that fascinates me is that while
she has an impressive list of letters after her name detailing her intimidating
education and training, she is down to Earth and eager to talk about any
subject. She is truly a favorite to "children" of all ages.
Written by Michelle Angelini
As a scientist, Thea worked at the University of Southern California doing research in computational neuroscience and human hand function. How can robot hands be made as dextrous as the human hand? How can prosthetic hands be improved to make them functionally equivalent to the real thing? She wrote three textbooks on these topics, and has been invited world-wide to present papers on how the brain controls the hand.
As a poet, Thea has had poetry and short fiction published in Rattle, Spillway, Common Lives, Peregrine XVI, ONTHE BUS, and Next... Magazine. She was a semifinalist in the Atlanta Review International Poetry Competition. Thea has given numerous poetry and fiction readings in Southern California and New England. Her chapbook, Be Ye Love (Inevitable Press) is part of the Laguna Poets series. She represented Los Angeles at the 1998 National Poetry Slam Competition in Austin, Texas, where the team came in third place out of 45 cities.
As a playwright, Thea's one-act play "When I Was Called Tony" was produced November 2002 at the OUT Theatre in Long Beach, California. Joining forces with her 90-year old mother, her new one-act play "Primed for Love" had a staged reading in September 2003. She has written six other plays including ‘Amacry! The Neuronic Musical’ which had a workshop production at The OUT Theatre in April 2004.
As a videographer, Thea's short documentary Feminist Building Project (1999) has screened at film festivals in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. (Thea Iberall's Website)
Executive Producer / Director Bob Bryan,
BRYAN WORLD PRODUCTIONS, LLC.
P.O. Box 74033, Los Angeles, CA 90004