Back in September 2019, inspired by an interview we did with science poet Dr Sam Illingworth, we asked you to send in a poem based on your work. The response was incredible - and we now have a winner!
We were all very impressed with the quality of the entries – you can find the best on our website. However, it was a competition and we do indeed have a winner.
Congratulations to Professor Ruth Aylett, from Heriot-Watt University with her poem ‘Coding’
Lines expand under my fingers as night fills with sleepers’ dreams; a soft percussion from the keyboard the persistent chatter of the disk while my typing forms machinery.
Once, on my knees before the broken dishwasher I asked you to fetch my pliers; you brought me wire cutters, then wrench, then pincers, needing more than my vague gesture ‘snippity snip’.
Now I must think as if a computer that shuttles binary not meaning this is my dream of a machine, empty planning until a processor tries to execute what I claimed would work.
Like real life it’s a series of bugs, minus the common sense that says ‘stop, I’ll tell you the exact look of pliers’, the impatience that says ‘fetch them yourself if you can’t get the description right’.
I close down, sleep. Passed as a parameter, forced to select, iterate; recurse into the endless corridor of mirror in the mirror, follow instructions that don’t work into paths that never terminate.
And the next day, done, triangles flock like fish or birds on my screen rippling with colours while everyone says ‘how beautiful’; a substanceless machine performs an answer to its imagined question.
Here is what Sam had to say about the winning entry:
“I was extremely impressed by the quality of the poems that were submitted to this competition, there are clearly some extremely talented poets that are masquerading as STEM researchers out there! However, I had to choose a winner, and for me ‘Coding’ by Professor Ruth Aylett from Heriot-Watt University was exceptional. This was a very personal and insightful poem that reminded me of Wallace Stevens in the way that Professor Aylett was able to seamlessly intertwine the banal with the profound. In particular, the lines “triangles flock // like fish or birds on my screen // rippling with colours” seemed to me a very beautiful account of the intricacies and potentials that coding can conjure up.”
Professor Aylett will receive a signed copy of Sam’s book, A sonnet to science, and a poem from the man himself.
Dr Sam Illingworth is a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University, where his research involves using poetry to enhance dialogue between scientists and non-scientists. You can find out more about Sam’s wok by visiting his website: www.samillingworth.com.
A sonnet to science: Scientists and their poetry is published by Manchester University Press. Available now at £20.00.