Following the news of the death of Stephen Hawking in March, I decided that we should have a collection of poems focusing on Science & Maths. As poets we are naturally curious which is something Stephen Hawking encouraged his students to be.
I hope you enjoy these poems, huge gratitude to everyone who submitted poems for my final Poet Laureate Anthology.
WPL Science & Maths Anthology
Every Word Counts
A boy’s DNA, left over from pregnancy, sits inside a woman’s brain,
foreign, persistent, DNA, more male than she will ever be,
a protector from disease, they say, persistent where it sits,
a remnant from pregnancy, an exchange of DNA, lingering
inside blood and bone. Protector of cells, tissue, neurons.
It’s difficult to be sure, they say, why a boy’s fetal cells
migrate through his mother, becoming part of her brain, heart, blood.
It’s as if he never leaves. His DNA sitting inside her, persistent.
His Y standing out among her XX.
I think of my sons’ DNA lingering inside my blood, protecting,
persistent as a heart’s beat. Among my XX a fragment of their Y
as if they’ve never left – a remanent from pregnancy,
the persistence of fetal cells.
Least said, soonest mended.
She won’t stop talking about worms,
the way they push up out of the earth like identical twins or clones.
She’d be terrified to be a worm, no arms or legs, no eyes – just a vague sense of light.
Is it judgemental, she asks, or sexist to say boys love worms the best?
She skips over the fact worms are hermaphrodites,
thinks about their blood, red or green.
Perhaps she should take a leaf out of Darwin’s book, make a longitudinal study.
She can’t understand why she won’t stop talking about worms
when what she needs to talk about is love, desire, or failing all else, rabbits.
Belinda Rimmer has worked as a psychiatric nurse, counsellor, lecturer and creative arts practitioner. Her poems have appeared in magazines, for example, Brittle Star, Dream Catcher, ARTEMISpoetry and Obsessed with Pipework. She has poems on-line and in anthologies. She won the Poetry in Motion Competition to turn her poem into a film. belindarimmer.com
Comets are wraith-like and mysterious –
the ethereal ghosts of the solar system.
The text book says they come from nothing
but are substantial entities.
Nobody truly knows where we come from
and our lives are just as mysterious.
They vanish as suddenly
leaving only memories in the darkness.
You spoke of how you sometimes looked at the night sky
and pleaded with the stars to take you back
back to where you once belonged.
I think of the many times I walked in the darkness
and prayed to the moon goddess to help me
guide me to my purpose in life.
A wise friend once told me that we are sent to earth
with a mission to accomplish and there is no return
until everything is finished .
I remember my father lifting me up and showing me the stars
repeating the names like a mantra
Orion’s Belt, Pole Star, Venus, The Great Bear.
I think of the times when there are no stars to guide us
when we have to trust that we will find our true pathway
and be given time to complete our work here on earth.
Fog swirls as I walk an endless school corridor towards the science lab.
My mouth is dry. The faces of the three bullies loom in and out
of nightmare whiteness, tongues flickering like snakes.
I seek shelter.
I never liked science or Mr Richards with his bushy ginger beard
but now as I stare up at him,
he is my protector.
I gabble a question about magnets,
ask why they repel,
notice three faces the other side of the fragile glass door,
See them dissolve like meringues
as sunlight streams through unfamiliar red curtains.
Sue Johnson is a poet, short story writer and novelist. Her work is inspired by country walks, fairy-tales and eavesdropping in cafes. She is a Writing Magazine Creative Writing Tutor. Further details of her work can be found at www.writers-toolkit.co.uk
Nicolaus Copernicus In My Mother’s New Kitchen
The centre of it all, he says,
is her Russell Hobbs kettle.
Everything revolves around it –
is drawn to it like the sun.
And the steam that gushes forth from
its snout, rising towards that distant
satellite the light bulb – it mesmerises
him, as does the sound of its boiling.
Look – he can’t stop switching it on and off.
He moves to her cooking tools, the
stainless steel specula that hang
with the teflon pans (carelessly burned,
he thinks), above her hob. He takes
an egg whisk, diagnostic in the handling,
the plastic unfamiliar to his touch.
As for the white casket that stands
against the wall, well, who is to be
buried in that, he wonders ?
Mother’s new kitchen is a peculiar universe
straddling the known and the unknown.
It is heliocentric, scented by liquids
and detergents, constructed by a synthetic God.
Copernicus warms himself near the fan-oven,
wipes the formica: slow, slow equalising circles.
Mark Kilburn was born in Birmingham and lived for a number of years in Scandinavia. Between 1996-98 he was writer in residence at the Open Theatre, Arhus, Denmark, and in 2002 was awarded a Canongate prize for new fiction. Between 2005-6 he was on attachment at Birmingham Repertory Theatre and in 2012 he won AbcTales.com’s poetry competition. His novel, Hawk Island, is published by electronpress.com
Mother set her down
by the Skylon
dazzling her with
sleight of hand, gravity, momentum and light.
The crowd eddied from the South Bank and
a girl skipped, potentiated, across Westminster bridge
as the flood tide surged beneath.
Day by day the patient explanations as the table was laid,
the roast resting,
two way family favourites, quick sketches
on scraps to hand
then the love of the handled structure, the assembly of ideas
of aircraft from technical drawings,
lunchtimes in pubs, rheumy lethargic afternoons
method and quiet passions,
slide rules and short sleeves, arguing about the
brute aesthetic, the curve of a nacelle.
the skeletal etymology of strut and internal tension
then the lithe leap into space,
Each night the torn remains
The Goldberg Variations ushering her to sleep like a stern uncle
fusing science and harmonics into other levels,
the music of the spheres and the calculus of flight,
with utmost faith on the early train,
that science could please the eye and command the sky
she rubs her eyes and peers across the misty fen,
searching for the point where the skies become the earth again.
© Outstanding Student Blog
Brian Comber lives in Worcestershire and writes poems and short stories. He performs regularly at spoken word events in Worcester. Brian has had flash fiction published in Black Pear press anthologies. He was runner up in the 2015 National Poetry day Light and Shade event at Kidderminster and has had poetry published in Contour online magazine.
Sundew eNsnares insects,
leaves with minusCule projections,
closer to earth,
closer to man,
fuller and fatter
than the seas.
See her grave face
through the lens
think of the aeons
of this moon
pulling higher tides.
The aim: diversity.
As the community
makes moon water
Polly Stretton organises 42Worcester, is a member of Worcester Writers’ Circle and Chair of the OU Poetry Society. She founded the Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe Young Writer Competition and judges many competitions. Girl’s Got Rhythm, her first poetry collection, was reprinted by Black Pear Press (2016), who also published Chatterton, (2014). https://journalread.com
The diameter of our planet can be calculated
using a simple photograph of the sunset.
Corresponding angular measures complete
carefully composed equations,
until they are a linear result.
This earth measurement
starts with radius.
Follows a trail of subtle equations,
measuring distance, height –
alphabet freeze letters take on new meaning.
Capitals mix with lowercase,
fall shallow and mutate again.
Mathematical symbols fill white space.
Decomposing vectors distil the image
with science and twisted abstracts.
You can measure the diameter of our planet
from a photograph,
it is a complicated process.
Staring through colours of the submerging sun,
focusing on light, reflecting off water.
Looking at red sky
descending into inky black, may offer you
more of the world
than size itself.
Sun sets in the west,
sunbeams rise out of the sky
in the east.
Slinking across pink set clouds
encounter each other,
combine. Fingers of God, entwine.
A radiant sheen spreads
across the whole sky.
Sun setting to the west,
sunbeams to the east.
This is not alchemy
just an act of nature.
A setting sun
creating the illusion.
A fake double life,
Like the gentle reminder
in the morning
of your presence,
a trail of you
Around the Bend
There is a sense
is all corner.
is a turning point,
the circle is always
is a point where
two straight edges meet.
has no straight edges,
it can have no
as the limit of a set
numbers of edges –
with a huge
number of edges,
will have many
Go from polygons
to the actual circle,
there will no longer
be any edges
only a smooth curve.
you have no angles,
Work with continuously
take yourself around
the bend and discover,
can appear obtuse.
Nina Lewis is published in anthologies and magazines including Under the Radar and Abridged. Her poems have been used in Art Installations and on Wenlock Poetry Festival trail and at BIG Lit. Her début pamphlet Fragile Houses was published by V. Press 2016. She is the current Worcestershire Poet Laureate.
What is two-thirds of…
What I hated most
in that school class,
was the mental test
I never passed.
Arithmetic; truly feared,
reduced me to shedding tears,
a quarter of this divided
by a fifth of the other.
Why did we have to bother?
Pacing up and down
He fired them at you,
looking over shoulders
encouraged more nervous guesses,
and prevented copying or
mates mouthing answers.
Before you work out one
He is on to the next.
In later years
it all became clear,
arithmetic was not to fear.
Half of that divided by
two-thirds of this,
reckoning my wages
was such a bliss.
Tony Raybould was born and raised in the Black Country and spent his early working life in its heavy industries. He later became a social worker including working for Worcestershire. He is new to writing and recently joined Bewdley’s writing group.
We are all made up of memory, you say.
Take away a man’s memory and he is nothing.
We are in the car, and I get to thinking
about this collage that is us, these
jigsaw pieces building up the plot
we are creating every day. Captured
moments, happy, sad, it’s all there –
every kiss and sigh, neurons scattered
from elements within our brain sparking
scenes played out time and again.
Our minds are strung on story-lines.
Now as we drive the darkening road
what was once the future is now way
behind us, the pub, the petrol station,
the conversation we’re having now is yesterday.
Jennie Farley is a published poet, workshop leader and teacher. Her poetry has featured in magazines including New Welsh Review, Under the Radar, The Interpreter’s House, Prole and webzines. Her first collection My Grandmother Skating (Indigo Dreams Pub) was published in 2016. Her latest collection Hex (IDP) due out 2018.
The first to be bound to this continent were the animals.
Penguins, seals, the dignified albatross, stately whales;
all persisted in the face of its rages –
the desolate winds, the great expanses empty of sustenance;
the six-month nights. Antarctica was indifferent, yet they adapted and survived.
They were tethered to its harshness by ice blink.
Aeons later came the explorers:
Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen
and those who followed in their snowy footsteps;
drawn by the immensity, the mystery:
the waves halted to white sculptures, the pearly summer dawns,
the clusters of sky-diamonds around the Southern Cross.
They craved the danger, the challenge, the target.
Some died, but others crowded in,
driven by ice blink
Then, of course, the scientists could not resist the continent’s siren call.
With -isms and –istics,
data and theories.
In their eagerness to count, to theorise, to measure,
indifferent to the frigidity and the laying bare of Antarctica’s secrets.
Ice blink held them in thrall.
And the exploiters followed them,
inspired and enticed by the revelations of their data;
determined to maximise the benefits of the continent’s bounty:
the oil, the minerals – all the desirabilities of human greed.
Caring nothing for the wilderness,
they were blinded by ice blink.
What next for Antarctica?
Armies of ideologies and of tourists marching across pristine snow,
A destination for all nations?
Climbers, leisure trekkers, dog-sled experiencers?
Snowfields becoming battlefields
while fragile, unassuming lichens are trampled
and a hush descends as the wildlife slips quietly away?
All because of ice blink?
THE WRONG ANSWER
“I don’t do numbers,” I’ve always said,
“At school they always messed with my head.”
From zero to infinity
They were a total mystery to me.
Being asked to do hard arithmetic
Was known to render me physically sick.
Multiplication and subtraction?
I took evading action.
Adding 47 to 192?
I simply didn’t have a clue.
There was Geometry and symmetry,
With all of Euclid’s angles:
Acute angles, obtuse angles, triangles –
My every reflex jangled.
The properties of a square
On the hypotenuse? Who put it there?
Algebra! The worst of the lot –
The product of an evil plot
To reduce me to a quivering heap,
And deprive me of a good night’s sleep.
6x – y? I just wanted to cry.
And what was it that caused me so much grief,
So I felt inadequate beyond belief
Until I was at sixes and sevens
(and now there was LONG DIVISION)?
It was getting sums wrong again and again,
A hundred times to the power of ten.
In the end I was in such a fix
With all those red crosses instead of ticks.
I’d spend hours on homework
Making holes in the page with tears of rage,
But however I’d persist,
The result was always equal: more crosses than ticks.
And still, faced with numbers today,
A mystifying fog descends –
A mathematical problem that never ends.
After many years of teaching poetry and writing to pupils in Worcestershire, Jenny Shaw began to write poetry and short stories of her own in retirement. She has since won competitions in both genres, and twice had her stories published in Worcestershire Literary Festival Flash Fiction anthologies.
She is absolutely no good at Maths!
The Toe of God
Physicists at Fermilab said recent results, “not equivalent to seeing the face of God,” but might be “the toe of God.”
In a mathematically perfect universe,
we would not exist. And yet, we do.
So far as physicists can tell,
the fattest little electron
violates the code of quantum rule,
emerging from the furnace
just slightly more often
than it’s annihilating equal.
Oh muon, there are two of you,
more often than your anti-muon dual,
and that may be the more important
one percent. The physicists have found
in the fireballs of their collisions
this vital sliver of your remnant.
Your existence depends
on the b-meson’s tendency
to oscillate wildly
between ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
And to this question of matter
the collision has answered ‘yes’
in just slightly more instances.
In a mathematically perfect universe,
we’d be unbegun. Instead, we subsist.
And so the physicists have come
to stub the Toe of God,
as he’s clad plainly in his dressing gown
coming back to bed in the dark,
having gotten no sure answer from Him,
as to why we exist, aside from a mumbling
about the charming, strange flavour of a quark.
Miranda Lynn Barnes
Heaven to the Bees, a Honeycomb in Space
To look back in time, when galaxies were young,
we need a larger mirror, to collect the most light.
It must be shaped like the bee’s signature honeycomb
and coated in a thin glaze of honey gold, to be light,
so very light, because it has a long way to go.
The mirror comb must be made of Beryllium
so that it can tolerate the cold of cryogenic night
and hold its shape. This will make it powerful enough
to see back to the beginning. It could even spy
the tiniest heat from a bumblebee on the moon.
A bee can see electric fields instead of infrared,
flowers lit up ultraviolet. Dense patches of blooms,
each bowl of pollen dazzles an electric charge,
signals the bee will learn and remember:
the corporeal memory of a body drawn down
into the sweet, heady fluff will lure the bee’s return.
And then the flower has a story to tell, and tell she will:
she changes her charge to reveal she’s been touched.
Turns out we’re electric, too. The balance tipped, a single
percentage more electrons than protons in our bodies,
and the force between us could levitate entire worlds.
Our own living cells seem to know the difference
in electricity around us, like fields of flowers to the bee.
We know time by the very oscillations of our electrons.
To look back into ourselves and find when we were young,
we’ll need a larger mirror. We might find the night full
of electric light—the ultraviolet glow of a levitating moon.
Miranda Lynn Barnes
Miranda Lynn Barnes is a poet from the US, now living in the UK. Recent poems appear in Under the Radar, The Compass, The Interpreter’s House, Confingo, and One. Miranda teaches Poetry and other genres at Bath Spa University, where she recently completed her PhD.
Change of Heart
In his heart he listens listens
to what he couldn’t bear before
to the steady thythm
to the steady rap rap
to the rap and the thythm
and to word after word
rap thythm rap thythm
rap word and word
it wasn’t like this
before he had the transplant
then all he heard
Shostakovich Beethoven Brahms Mendelsson
until his heart died just like them.
No he’s a total rap fan
with a rapper’s heart.
Based on the experience of a New York heart transplant recipient.
Linda Williams lives in rural Worcestershire with her husband. She writes mainly poetry, short stories and plays. She has been published, placed in competitions and has had plays performed in Birmingham and Worcestershire. She began writing 20 years ago.