By Madelyn Ostendorf
When searching for information about pests and plant diseases, poetry might not be the format that first comes to mind. The Phytopoetry Project, a multimedia venture by Iowa State University’s Integrated Pest Management program, features the mustached character of Sebastian Eugene Bartholomew, a savant in both poetry and pest management.
Phytopoetry is a genre — plant poetry — used by the IPM team that encompasses poetry about plants, weeds, insects, diseases and pests.
IPM is a branch of Iowa State Extension and Outreach, and its team works to provide resources and training to help promote pest management practices.
Adam Sisson, industry extension specialist, writes all of the poetry and performs as Bartholomew, and Brandon Kleinke, media production specialist, travels on location with Sisson to record and edit the footage, as well as create any practical effects needed. Joey Cornelis and Keaton Hewitt assist with promotion and graphic design.
The Phytopoetry Project videos are created by combining writing, videography and self-deprecating humor. Sisson has always had a passion for creative writing, and Kleinke has an enthusiasm for video production. IPM already had a track record of using creative avenues for distributing content, so a new project was born.
“When you work as a science writer, you don't usually get the opportunity to tap into that creativity,” Sisson said. “I was listening to a podcast about how to be better at Twitter, because I had taken over IPM’s Twitter, and they were interviewing someone who said, ‘Tweet about what you're passionate about.’ I thought, I like poetry, how can I combine them?”
Bartholomew is a poet whose work centers around plants and the pests and diseases that impact plants. In his videos, he can be found roaming one of the many Iowa State research farms, reading his poetry to plants and talking to himself about his many life experiences.
It’s a silly way to bring people information about pest management, Sisson said, and it's a good way. While it's simple to just distribute a complex research paper, bringing information in a simpler, disseminated way makes it more accessible.
“Adam really owns the character,” Kleinke said. “We weren’t sure where we were going with the concept at first, but once Adam started putting on the suit and making comments about his travels, class schedule and his new book we knew we had something. Plus, the poetry is wonderful and my kids think the mustache is hilarious.”
The series is planned in seasons, and IPM is currently in Season 1 of the Phytopoetry Project. Sisson and Kleinke also hope to film some videos for the off-season.
While the videos are light and fun, they serve to bring extension resources directly to people who need them. Sisson ends each video by reminding the viewers that he is not Bartholomew and directing them to helpful information.
“Behind this mustache, I’m an Extension worker,” Sisson said.
Check out their latest videos.