SciPo 2017 – a Meeting of Science and Poetry
Programme (all in the Lady Brodie Room and adjoining Sibthorp Room):
10.00-10.30am Arrival, tea/ coffee and welcome by Jenny Lewis, The Poet’s House, Oxford
10.30-12.30pm: Symposium, chaired by Dr Sarah Watkinson.
Discussion between poets Valerie Laws and Mario Petrucci. Each speaker will be asked to introduce themselves for about 3 minutes, followed by about 30 minutes of discussion of questions raised by the chair, for example: how differently do poets and scientists understand the world? Does truth mean the same in science and in poetry? What do scientists and poets each mean by ‘beauty’? Why are science and poetry both widely seen as remote and abstruse when both focus on the real and the ordinary? How different is the language of science and poetry? How do we write poetry about things too big or too small to experience? How do we reconcile scientific objectivity, distance and rationality with the personal close-up subjectivity of poetry?
Plenary discussion, among all present, will follow for about 30 minutes and can continue during lunch.
12.30-13.00pm: Lunch break. Please bring a packed lunch.
Participants are welcome to picnic in the gardens.
13.00-15.00pm: Readings: Valerie Laws and Mario Petrucci
15.30-16.30pm: Open mic chaired by Jenny Lewis
There will be a small display of books and articles. If you would like to, please bring copies of up to five of your own books.
No car parking is available in the college grounds but there is a small public car park and parking spaces along roads nearby. It is always a problem in Oxford – please allow yourself time to park, or use the Park and Ride buses.
What happened at the event
We are immensely grateful for the generous support of the Research Committee, which enabled us to run a second science-poetry interdisciplinary event in collaboration with The Poet’s House Oxford.
Valerie Laws and Mario Petrucci, both eminent poets with backgrounds in physics, were this year’s guest speakers. Twenty eight poets and scientists attended, three from St Hilda’s. The format was similar to the inaugural SciPo in 2016, with a morning symposium on the common ground between science and poetry, and afternoon readings, ending with an open mic chaired by Jenny Lewis of the Poet’s House Oxford.
In the morning discussion our guest poets talked about their poetic practice, in response to questions initially from the chair (SW) and then from all participants. While both poets and scientists are motivated by curiosity, a sense of wonder and search for truth, the discussion teased out some fruitful ideas about the ways we see the world differently as poets and as scientists. Each way of seeing can fertilise the other. Precision, empathy, faith and authenticity were offered as possible commonalities between science and poetry. Afterwards Valerie Laws read and presented installations on cardiology originally exhibited at St Thomas’s Hospital; on a Wellcome Trust-supported collaboration with neuroscientists on the brain, consciousness and dementia; and on programmed cell death as an essential part of morphogenesis. Mario Petrucci read from his numerous collections, including the acclaimed book, ‘Heavy Water: A Poem for Chernobyl’ and showed work on Amazonian deforestation.
Over tea there was a chance for participants to buy books from the bookstall, followed by a book signing session by the visiting poets.
Informal feedback via word of mouth and email was highly appreciative. People felt that the event was more 'academic' than last year, a feature that was generally welcomed. It was suggested that keeping the event fairly small and intimate (a request from last year's feedback) allowed time for a deeper level of intellectual enquiry and discussion than last year, which was greatly valued. This was also helped by the fact that there were only two visiting poets as opposed to three last year. To attract more students from both Science and Humanities we might offer a poetry competition advertised through college tutors, with winners platformed in the open mic session and on the web. I am extremely grateful for these ideas, and for her support, to St Hilda’s Stipendiary Lecturer Dr Elsa Hammond.
Huge thanks are due to all in college who have contributed marketing, catering, accommodation and reception to SciPo.