Poet in residence to unite art and science

2 March 2012

A Leverhulme Poet in Residence at the University of Hull’s Scarborough Campus is helping to teach Aquatic Zoology as a way of enhancing students’ understanding on how to use language effectively. He will create a new sequence of poems and prose that explore the values and techniques of scientific research.

Dr John Wedgwood Clarke

In a unique project that aims to bring together different disciplines, Dr John Wedgwood Clarke who is a poet, editor and teacher will spend the next year at the Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences to create a dialogue between science and art.

It is hoped that John will reveal the life of the department to itself, he will be the eyes and ears of the department, collecting voices, making observations, detailing images and events. This distance and clarity of insight will allow him to say things that are not usually said, and to connect people who may not realise just how much they have in common. He will also be able to connect threads of thought and activity between different disciplines across the Campus.

The proposal for a Leverhulme Artist in Residence was developed as a collaboration between poet John and Marine Biology Lecturer Dr Magnus Johnson who sees huge benefits in adopting an interdisciplinary approach. Magnus explains: “In ecology the interesting bits are often at the boundaries between ecosystems, for example in the intertidal zone between the land and the sea. I believe the same to be true at the boundaries between disciplines; John’s interest in the Sea counterpoints nicely with the natural love academics have for words.”

Similarly, John responds “I think that powerful poetry and effective science arise out of conversation with practitioners; the more you collaborate and share, the richer the results. This project will be about making a range of cross-fertilisations and contexts possible within the department and hopefully lead to the creation of new and surprising work.

John continues: “ Both poets and scientists name the world in order to share it with others. How they do it may differ, but at heart, the best of them study the world around them and try to see knew things in the old familiar world, whether that be by looking in a rock pool or talking about love. New poetic metaphors are made by connecting previously unrelated material, and scientific developments are often made when different, previously discrete disciplines, are allowed to intersect and share their different ways of conceptualising the world. Bringing poetry and science together allows the two disciplines to refresh each other by exchanging their techniques and values. This is an exciting, timely project, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to learn from new colleagues and students and to share what I’ve learnt.”

During his time on campus, John will set up a poetry booth on campus and talk to as many students as possible to find out just how much they know about what their fellow students do. These conversations will be noted and tagged and where interests intersect, people will be connected up via a notice board.

He will offer creative writing workshops based on research projects that are being undertaken by members of the department. He will read the research and then explore with staff what the different options the poet might take in transforming the research into a poem or presenting the material to a general audience.

Each fortnight, he will write a poem about an aspect of departmental life. This poem will be projected onto the walls of the library and highlighted on the campus website.

John will also work with a local school to bring a group of children to campus to visit a research site and return with specimens to the laboratory. These children will take part in a creative writing workshop interpreting the materials they have gathered and the discoveries they have made. These will be presented together with the work of students produced during their series of creative writing sessions in order to see how priorities of observations change as people age, and to discuss what is lost and what is gained.

Dr Magnus Johnson concludes: “John will help students and staff to explore their skills as writers to help them explore boundaries between scientific responsibility and the need to communicate their discoveries to a wider audience. Having a member of staff with a completely different “take” on our discipline will challenge us and help us to broaden our outputs. The generally incremental nature of science means that we often look a the foreground and worship statistical significance, perhaps missing out on reviewing larger scale significances and what small steps may build towards. The presence of an inquisitive poet will encourage us to review and develop our purpose in research and teaching.”

Ends.

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