media release

Poets and scientists fuse creative horns

December 10, 2012

Lynne Quarmby, 778.782.4474,
Aileen Penner, 778.980.2403,
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,

In a marriage of minds brought about by getting inside each other’s heads, scientists and poets, including a Simon Fraser University cell biologist, will hold a free public poetry reading on Friday, Dec. 14. The Science of poetry, The Poetry of science gets underway at 7 p.m. at 1965 Main Street in Vancouver, the home of Vivo Media Arts Centre. Vancouver Poet Laureate Evelyn Lau will open the event.

Five pairs of presenters, each consisting of a scientist and a poet, will read poems that they’ve spent the last few weeks co-writing under the curation and instruction of Aileen Penner. The SFU School of Communication graduate, now a freelance writer, poet and science communication specialist, organized the event to cultivate more creative approaches to science communication. The event also aims to demonstrate how scientific-poetic collaboration can spark new ways of seeing the world.

“I find that in order for the public to care about science and research that affect their lives, they need to hear the story in a way that affects the heart,” says Penner, an SFU Writing Studio grad.

“It is art, poetry, theatre, dance, etc., that have a way into our hearts and minds that traditional prose doesn’t. I have researched and seen how art-science collaborations open up the imagination, creativity and new ways of understanding that profoundly impact the collaborators and audiences.”

Lynne Quarmby, an SFU cell biologist who writes and paints, is collaborating with Carol Shillibeer, a published Vancouver poet and writer who has presented her work through The Writer’s Studio program at SFU.

After settling on a theme of biology-inspired awe, Quarmby took Shillibeer on a tour of her lab to experience the sights, sounds and smells in her work. The two then created separate poems for presentation on Dec. 14.

Quarmby says Shillibeer’s critique of her poem is helping her learn how to create a space that draws a reader down an emotional path rather than an intellectual one.

According to Quarmby, Shillibeer managed to capture some biological awe in her poem. Quarmby says she found awe “beyond her current poetic skills” and instead produced a poem that is more a tribute to the process of experimentation.

Quarmby says her collaboration with Shillibeer confirms for her that poetry could be one salvation of science communication.

“Communication among scientists is easy,” says Quarmby. “We gesticulate and talk excitedly on napkins because we are emotionally engaged in the science. We have a difficult time getting people on the outside to care because we insist on taking them down the logical, intellectual path that got us there. What precise tool would I need to cut to the chase? To give it an emotional kick? Poetry! Yes!”

Simon Fraser University is Canada's top-ranked comprehensive university and one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 120,000 alumni in 130 countries.


Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.

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