Read our favourite entries to the "Research in Verse" competition:
We had all sorts of entrants to the "Research in Verse" competition, with topics ranging from gravity to slavery to life in the lab. Here are the winners and some other notable entries.
First Place: "Digging for Truffles" by Professor Michael Hauskeller
Digging for Truffles
Do something important, we’re told,
Be a Shakespeare, a Newton, a Plato.
Only greatness can fill
The vast empty spaces.
The little lives are lost.
Cure cancer, make history,
save the world, make it count.
Don’t just laugh and love and live
Like any other
If you do, your life’s pointless,
A dog’s life, a pig’s, barely human.
Life’s worth living but for those
Who shine bright and bold,
Saved by the glory of their accomplishments.
You and I, though, we carry on,
Quite content with not being special,
Chasing balls in the fields and
Quietly digging for truffles
That will only last for a day.
Objectivist accounts of meaning in life strongly suggest that nothing is worth doing or desiring that cannot be evaluated on a scale of better or worse, nor is it worth doing or desiring if it ranks low on that scale. It is assumed that a life can only be meaningful if it is good for something other than itself. Objectivist accounts thus accommodate our deep-seated fear of insignificance and our desire to receive some public affirmation of our existence and its value. As a corrective, I am developing a subjective account of meaning that is more democratic and inclusive. More information can be found here.
Prof Michael Hauskeller is Head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Liverpool, with an interest in the broader issues around ethics.
Second Place: "Progress" by Dr Katy Roscoe
The scratching and scraping of steel on rock,
In concert our muscles, they crunch and creak.
Slow inch by inch we chisel out the dock,
Ankles bound in irons, the hulls in teak.
Wiping sweat from my brow, I gaze afore:
I’m dazzled – bright sun, blue sky, white lime.
Ocean’s eternity returns ashore,
An excess of brightness – like hope – can blind.
Night falls, men drive us into beached ships,
Dank air, sodden bodies, yellow fever.
Vessels for human cargo turned crypts,
If my body holds out, I will leave here.
Will I be able to retrieve the past,
Or will that monolith be all that lasts?
My research is about convicts who quarried stone to build the naval dockyard at Bermuda, an Atlantic archipelago. Around 9,000 British and Irish men, many poor and starving, were transported there from 1842-63. Prisoners slept in decommissioned ships (hulks) which were dirty and crowded. Over 1200 men died there from effects of hard labour and yellow fever. Some went temporarily blind (opthamalia) from sunlight reflecting off limestone. “Retrieve the past” is a quote from a convict’s letter (1857). He hoped to be released under a “Ticket-of-Leave” in Australia, where he could earn an honest living, rather than return home.
Dr Katherine (Katy) Roscoe is a historical criminologist at the University of Liverpool with research interests centred on global mobilities, unfree labour and racial inequalities, with a particular focus on mid-nineteenth century crime and punishment in Britain and its former empire.
Third Place: "Apparent Horizons" by Dr Lee Tsang
I am what I am and what I’m not.
I’m the acts and non-acts of
‘might’ and ‘forgot’.
More than that.
I am the suns I never had.
I’m the light that
I am the Green Ray,
of fusion where
Apparent Horizons play with time.
As you are to me
I’m the passing cusp of
hopes and fears
for suns untamed.
I am the Light
Dr Lee Tsang is a musician of dual heritage who takes on multiple roles in crossover works. His poem was written while reflecting on complex systems in his own practice, as demonstrated in Twisting Ways (2020, 2020/2021), the latest output from a longstanding partnership with Canadian jazz-classical pianist and composer David Braid. The poem contemplates philosophical and psychological issues relating to agency, identity, and fluid performance/compositional processes in light of Korsyn’s espousal of Harold Bloom's Anxiety of Influence for musical contexts.
Notable Mention: "An Evening in the Lab" by Dr Bhavin Siritanaratkul
“An evening in the lab”
Quiet corridors, empty desks
The light patter of rain
Graphs on my screen, a tangle of lines
A fog on my brain
Discarded reactions, black lumps of carbon
The products of my labour
Wrong trends, unequal sums
This week’s experiments, a failure
Replace elements, reroute gas lines
New patterns and ideas converge
Remake electrodes, repeat measurements
A hazy plan, outlines emerge
Darkened skies, unyielding rain
But gone was my sorrow
Lightened steps, a clear mind
Decision made, new experiments tomorrow!
My research is in the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide, with the dream to use renewable electricity to convert carbon dioxide back to valuable fuels and chemicals. The poem was written while I was looking for a break in the evening when none of my experiments were working.
Dr Bhavin Siritanaratkul is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Liverpool with a focus on carbon dioxide reduction.
Notable Mention: "Public Health" by Dr Alex Stockdale
In a long corridor wailing
The virus knuckles and grasps
At birth was I living with him
His genome nestling in mine
Now fluid fills the belly
Tumour fills my liver
Hope left this station
Staring out the window
At a blue calm sky on a roaring hot day in Malawi
Too late they said
Nothing more to say
I don’t have much time left to live but I want you to know
It could have been prevented
This poem is about my research into liver disease in Blantyre, Malawi. We found that over 70% of liver cancer is caused by hepatitis B. Infection can be prevented by vaccination starting at birth and by antiviral treatment for pregnant women. Currently, vaccination starts at 6 weeks of age and my research is exploring whether this is sufficient to prevent transmission. This poem draws attention to the many people who present with late stage liver cancer in Malawi, for whom median prognosis is only 6 weeks at diagnosis, and for whom hepatitis B infection remains a preventable disease.
Dr Alexander Stockdale is a clinical researcher at the University of Liverpool with a focus on viral hepatitis and HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.