A view From the Bridge

Fire, ice — and the science in poetry

Fimmvörðuháls, Iceland

Volcanic activity in winter at Fimmvörðuháls, Iceland

Boaworm, Wikimedia Commons

The annual T. S. Eliot Prize readings are a three-hour marathon testing some of the best minds and voices in English-language poetry today. On 11 January in a packed Royal Festival Hall in London, the shortlisted poets made for a tremendous lineup.

Darwin’s great-great granddaughter Ruth Padel — whose 2009 Darwin: A Life in Poems was reviewed in Nature Books and Arts — read with mesmerising intensity from Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth. Padel’s work often pivots on the physical, from human anatomy to worked wood; the collection ends with “Making is our defense against the dark.” John Burnside and Irish poet Michael Longley delivered charged poems on death and not belonging.

It was Icefield, David Harsent’s elegy on the cost of climate change to landscapes and mindscapes, that stunned — reminding how science and poetry both cut to the bone. Beginning with “A place of ice over ice, of white over white”, it ends:

Breakage and slippage; the rumble of some vast
machine cranking its pistons, of everything on the slide;
and the water rising fast, and the music lost.

Harsent’s Fire Songs was announced as the winner on 12 January.

For Nature’s full coverage of science in culture, visit www.nature.com/news/booksandarts.

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