Suggested Poetry and Science reading


One of my absolute favourite poets is Miroslav Holub who was not only a world class poet but an eminent scientist, specialising in pathology and immunology. His work has been widely translated from Czech into English. He once read in Nottingham, at the Lace Hall which is now The Pitcher and Piano and signed my book with a pigeon symbol… His spare, wry observations about the history and the human condition are extraordinary. Much of his work from The Fly, Vanishing Lung Syndrome, On the Contrary and other collections were collected in Poems Before and After (Bloodaxe, 2006). His collection On the Contrary includes a remarkable sequence of Brief Reflection poems in which he reflects on a wide range of topics including cats growing in trees, pain, the Flood and test tubes. Poem Technology’, from The Fly, is my go-to poem when anyone tries to pin poetry down as being one thing It begins: 

It is

        a fuse,

you light

somewhere in the grass…

Rebecca Elson was an astronomer involved in dark matter research and a poet who kept a remarkable series of notebooks in which she charts her developing understanding of human forces. Many of her poems are short pieces of wonder that grapple with complex scientific ideas in a way that makes them seem so straightforward and yet leave you want to know more. A Responsibility to Awe (Carcanet, 2001) includes poems, notebook extracts and an essay in which she explores her awakening to the world of science and the imagination. The creation of Helium and the Big Bang is captured through a description of a ‘Girl with a Balloon’. The title poem explores her position as an astronomer: ‘We astronomers are nomads,/Merchants, circus people,/All the earth our tent.’

Philip Gross is another Bloodaxe poet who has for many years been writing about shifting dimensions and frontiers such as the water table, dark matter and loss of speech. His poems in Dark Matter (2011) are about coming to terms with his father’s loss of languages due to deafness and then aphasia. The poem ‘Deep Field’ is ostensibly about the Hubble telescope and its skewed lens which had to be replaced (something which Rebecca Elson was also occupied with in a professional capacity) but the spaces between his father’s words are also lucidly explored in a poem which plays around so intelligently with form and white space.

Finally I’d also like to mention A Sonnet to Science: Scientists and their Poetry by Sam Illingworth (Manchester University Press, 2019). This provides a good introduction to notable figures including Holub, Elson and Ada Lovelace. Hope you can make some further discoveries in the Poetry and Science list below which I compiled with Chris Jones and Pippa Hennessy. The list features personal recommendations discussed during our Five Leaves event this week. Many of the books are available for order through

Derek Collins (2016) Aftermath (out of print)

Rebecca Elson (2001) A Responsibility to Awe. Carcanet. ISBN 19781903039540

Jon Glover (2008) Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Carcanet. ISBN 9781857549676

Philip Gross (2009) The Water Table. Bloodaxe. ISBN 9781852248529

Philip Gross (2011) Deep Field. Bloodaxe. ISBN 9781852249199

Philip Gross (2015) Love Songs of Carbon. Bloodaxe. ISBN 9781850372587

Miroslav Holub (2006) Poems Before and After. Bloodaxe  ISBN 97818522478 (includes poems from The Fly, Vanishing Lung Syndrome, On the Contrary and other collections)

Sam Illingworth (2019) A Sonnet to Science: Scientists and their Poetry. Manchester University Press ISBN 9781526127983

David Morley (2002) Scientific Papers. Carcanet. ISBN 9781857545678

Sinead Morrissey (2017) On Balance. Carcanet Press.

Sinead Morrissey (2007) Through the Square Window. Carcanet Press.

Brian Moses and James Carter (eds) (2019) Spaced Out (anthology of space poems). Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781472961150

Maurice Riordan and Jocelyn Bell Burnell (eds) (2008) darkmatter: poems of space. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. ISBN 9781903080108

Maurice Riordan (2000) Floods. Faber and Faber.

Our own recent work

Tuesday Shannon, Pippa Hennessy, Elizabeth Hourston (2019) Take Three – Soundswrite Press New Poets volume 1, Soundswrite. ISBN 9780995457812

Sue Dymoke (2018) What They Left Behind. Shoestring Press. ISBN 9781912524082

Sue Dymoke and Pietro Roversi (2018) The genesis, writing and form of the poem DNA Time, Writing in Education, Issue 75, Summer 2018, 56 – 60. DNA Time and an article about writing it can be downloaded here.

Chris Jones (2015) Skin. Longbarrow Press. ISBN 9781906175252

The Rose of Temperaments: Poetry, Science and Colour (pamphlet featuring poems by Angelina D’Roza, A.B. Jackson, Chris Jones, Geraldine Monk, Helen Mort and Alistair Noon) (2018) Longbarrow Press.

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