‘Science arose from poetry… when times
the two can meet again on a higher level as friends’.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
It feels like AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month) happened ages ago, even though it was only in November. This year, for the first time, we ran a very special competition as part of AcWriMo, asking researchers to transform their research projects into poems.
We were astounded by the range and calibre of the poems received – thirteen in total, representing all three faculties. Each of them had something unique to offer. Memorable, powerful, funny, elegant, profound, educational, enjoyable, clever, evocative, beautiful… – these are just some of the adjectives mentioned when the judging panel were discussing the entries.
We were absolutely delighted that Karenjit Sandhu[i], The University of Surrey’s current poet-in-residence, was able to join us in the judging. This is what she said about the competition:
I have been extremely impressed by all the entries. I was amazed by the way in which the entrants used the poetic form to convey their research. The poems were highly inventive, enlightening and thought provoking. It is evident that this activity has enabled entrants to see their research afresh as they seek innovative ways to present their ideas. Well done to everyone who entered, and a big congratulations to all the winners!
So… the winners!
Our three top-scoring entries were by
Iain Lee (PGR at the Department of Physics),
Sylvia Solakidi (PGR at the Guildford School of Acting) and
Vanessa Cumper (PGR at the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management).
And a special commendation has gone to our short poem winner
Tamzin Ractliffe (PGR at the Centre for Environment and Sustainability).
Congratulations to all!
Here are the winning poems, together with the short explanations that the authors have provided.
You close your eyes
Fall backwards into space, arrive at a star
Inhale the endless expulsion of energy
Feel the heat intimidate your face, pass through your body
You enter the star
Absorb energy, dispel it as you please
Creating and destroying
Atoms crash and coalesce
I study the star
The coherence has broken
What happened? The star has changed
How has the star changed..
Working thesis title: ‘The effects of a plasma environment on stellar nuclear fusion reactions using an open quantum systems approach’.
Iain: ‘This poem represents the struggles faced when trying to understand nuclear fusion reaction in stars. It is common to model fusion as two atomic nuclei crashing into each other – but what about the environment surrounding these reactions? This poem attempts to take the reader on a short journey, from a journey to the star (which would be an experimentalist’s dream), to becoming the unknown interactions within the star, to my position as a theoretical researcher trying to understand something that technically has a definite answer, but I will never know exactly’.
Follow the water
when you lose your way
in a city
When this disease hits again
and turns places into strangers
it is time to hesitate
time to look around
time to smell the confusion
it has the smell of water
I follow the smell
I follow the river
The river cures the confusion
the river guides me
and I will not be lost anymore
A sea out of the reservoir of water images
an intruder sea out of the reservoir of my water images
pastes itself where there was the river
A sea-weed grows in the soil of the city
it becomes strong
it grafts itself into the stem of the riverbank
It is not a riverbank anymore
it is a seafront
the seafront of that city
of your city
The city is not a stranger anymore
it grows as a grafted plant
it is joined with your city
Is it time to cut the graft
time to cut the weed memory
time to lose myself in oblivion?
Or is it time to follow the sea
time to cut the oblivion
time to lose my way into the grafted city?
(The disease of oblivion?
The disease of memory?)
Sylvia: ‘In 2018, I visited Antwerp for the first time. I have a poor sense of orientation and, as usual, I lost my way in the city and I found myself near the river. Thanks to a coincidence, the river felt as if it had been the sea of Thessaloniki, a Greek city I am very familiar with. I reworked this intense experience in the research paper “Ways of Walking” (Ways of Walking (escholarship.org), in which I elaborate on loss in cities, writing and memory, by using Kenneth Goldsmith’s concept of displacement as my guide. And I also elaborate on loss of love and my beloved ones who are not living anymore’.
Steadfast stoic, historical institutions
Step across the foreboding glacial threshold
Dusty enduring dramatic, contemplation
Drink in the culture, the heritage, the beauty
Befuddling confounding materialistic manifestations
Be in awe of their mighty magnificence
Manipulating factors of embodiment by
Merleau-Ponty, and all of his crew
With their metaphorical, philosophy
Wacky whippersnappers, the lot of you
Cognitive powers of appreciation, in a
Contradictory, paradoxical, circumstance
Technology, snapping viciously at their heels
Territory, there’s just no space for it anymore
AR, VR, MR, no longer tethered to the ground
Aspects of modernity, viewed through technology
Conceptual parameters drawn in quicksand
Combining communicative and expressive functionality
Organisational oral opportunities, to suppress
Oppressive dictatorship arbitrarily irresolute, silence
Barriers beyond physical boundaries, restrict abilities
Bereft of ordinary every day, social exploration
Surroundings augmented, purposefully accessible
Situatedness extending, beyond physicality
Lacking conscious understanding
Language is free, freeing, freed, freedom
Provisional thesis title: ‘How can Augmented Reality on mobile devices enhance recreational activities for those who are D/deaf in museums and galleries?’
Vanessa: ‘My research centres on how augmented reality can facilitate access for people who are D/deaf to arts and heritage. Each segment relates to a section of my research. The first segment refers to the historical stuffiness of arts and heritage. The second discusses Merleau Ponty, embodiment and how embodiment for abled people is different for diverse groups. The third, the use of technology, how rapidly it has changed, in turn changed our society, our interactions, our self-expression and how some are resistant to that change. Finally, I talk about people who are D/deaf, the historical oppression of this group and if people who use oral language took the time to learn visual language, then maybe people who are D/deaf would not be marginalised’.
when collectively inspired
Provisional thesis title: ‘Resilience at work: evaluating the beneficial difference of formal and informal strategies on collective resilience in organisational context’.
Tamzin: ‘Ubuntu is an African philosophy encapsulated by the phrase ‘I am a person through other persons’ and it points to how interconnected our being – and therefore our resilience – is. It is something I have been exploring in terms of my view that collective resilience might be the cornerstone of good work in a good society – work that is sustainable and sustaining, that cares for the other as much as the sel’f.
Thank you, again, to everybody who has shared their poems with us!
We were touched. We were impressed. We got inspired!
And… we can’t wait until next year’s competition 😊!
Dr Nadya Yakovchuk, Teaching Fellow in Academic Writing, Doctoral College
P.S. Special thanks go to Dr
Mike Rose for expertly summarising the judging panel’s comments into the
individualised feedback sent to every participant, and to Beau Bell for doing
their magic to tweet out all submitted entries (@SurreyDocCol).
[i] ‘Karenjit Sandhu’s debut collection young girls! is out now with the87press. It is a reimagining of the life of Hungarian-Indian artist Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941). Through her art Sher-Gil creates a bridge between the east and west. Sandhu’s collection aims to capture the merging of cultures, languages, geographies, and identities. It is for anyone who has ever found themselves caught in the in-between’. https://www.the87press.co.uk/shop/p/young-girls-karenjit-sandhu-2021