Have you ever wanted to discover how poetry can bring a new perspective to your research? How your words can engage new audiences with the subject you are passionate about?

Together with the poetry and public engagement professional, David Cain, the researchers explored the vast world of poetry, its different formats to bring out the poetry that lay behind their research for performance and for publication.

Title of the Collection of Creative Pieces

“The Hope of Knowing Love”: Research Poems to Open Our World.

"Knowing love or the hope of knowing love is the anchor that keeps us from falling into that sea of despair."

bell hooks
All About Love (1999)



The Words programme for Creative Encounters set out to look at, and share, research through poetry.

I am really interested to see how each of the writers have put the ‘I” - their personal experience - into their work. I believe these poems enable us to see the person, and what their work means to them; alongside giving an insight into the areas they each work on.

I hope these poems enable you to have a new, and different, relationship not only with their subjects, but with the writers as individuals too."

David Cain, Creative Lead


Of Immutability

As an education researcher and poet, I was especially drawn to the twofold fact that the Cambridge Creative Encounters has a separate category for poetry, WORDS, and it is being led by a member of the PE team who is an accomplished practising poet - this is indispensable to do justice to the research topic and poetry; and learning about research across disciplines from the group was enriching. 

Dr Dita N. Love

Dr Dita N. Love
Faculty of Education

I don’t know a soul who doesn’t feel small among the numbers. Razor small.
Jo Shapcott, Of Mutability (2010)

These poems invite you to compassionately stay with beliefs of ‘immutability’ in the face of long-standing adversities and injustice based on mutually transformative research with young offenders. In a call to Humane Justice, Wallis wrote “the needs of the harmed and the harmer are similar”, but, they are not the same. By acknowledging this, complexity of everyone’s needs become more visible, and justice all the more possible. The poems probe uneasy barriers to healing from trauma and achieving fair justice, experienced by both victim-survivors and victim-perpetrators of various crimes. This means, enacting our collective duty to counter harms reproduced by social inequalities, state, institutions and within our communities. 

The poems

Whoever can Cry Should Come Here

× ×

Whoever can Cry Should Come Here

A boy at a young offenders’ institution was left to lie on a mattress on the floor of a "filthy" cell for more than 22 hours a day, a report has revealed. The chief inspector of prisons said a practice of separating children from their peers amounted to "harmful solitary confinement”. —xx xx, xxxx, xxxxx

Each corner of the cell

misfired     amends

  like amens—

beside a boy,

stood another boy,

none of them knew

    who was,

a sadder thing

  than the other—

why each  shuts


   inside himself.

Unlike a parent,

  the way to approach a boy

inside, is to keep your mouth   open,

to tell his tongued whispers

from a crossed-out body, on the run,

a full calendar year

    broken enough at the months,

curled at the spine,

the wisdom of boyhood

made-man, only

through soft touch

of his own accord.

The only river,

the river of crimes

against   tenderness—

almost, the velocity of hunger,

to push the body unto its own

    loving arms,

an en-gendered legacy

of the nation state

that kills

    and tells

in a one-minute silence.


In the aftermath of the body

no one approaches it—

Not even with wails

close to the surface of skin

to draw to a close

a body’s   blue-lipped  tyranny

like nowhere to turn,

he had    nowhere to turn

an unfathered tongue

into a weaponised laughter,

in a strange country

that grows plants,

against the freedom

of life


all public prayers for him.

How to approach a boy,

on the outside

    re-move it:

the scanned sadness

in his eyes,

     a fingerprint,

the pinkish letters of his fingertips.

Not even with vigilant hands,

candled doorknobs,  or fired-up rituals,

not even  with the soles of your feet,

or a wounded glottal stop,

  guil’y till proven guilty

not even with an out-of-body sob-

     story that burns down, softly,

the whole city inside his chest,

    a burnt sighting of a past

that almost like it didn’t happen

to someone with a body

      that can cry

outside of human earshot—

Whoever can-not   love


    should come here.

The title is take from Carolyn Forché’s poem Book Codes: II from The Angel of History (1994).


A Letter from Prison

× ×

A Letter from Prison

After Ocean Vuong

Dear Mum/ it’s a secret you/ cry yourself to sleep eating egg-whites & sugar snaps/ cloaked in Gran’s hand-embossed sofa throw/ up for hours on end, fight him hell-bent over smashed sidelights by the door/ pray/ he will be the one to suture this family’s/ age-old wound/ prison sooths me/ like the ocean/ conch within earshot/ body strip-searched/ & unpearled by waves/ one thing/ no tears in court/ tell him/ I eat just fine/ on the wing the other boys/ save for some guards thread light/ like pet peacocks/ tamed by time, there are rare hours/ I sit in poetry class/ put notes down about the older/ drug-lords of my neighbourhood: how come/ a 16-year-old/ rascal makes so much dough/ & we don’t see/ him in the hood?/ a lighter in hand/ ghosted away your face between his/ and my fist raised to burn/ my greenhouse/ sentence/ schoolhouse to jailhouse/ judge’s words: a mastermind man/ gets to money/ in a split of a second/ I saw Dad/ well up & storm out of the courtroom/ the real parent/ you/ stayed, all eyes/ on the back of your/ neck his breath/ of absence – /rewind:/ a rolled up paper strip on my tongue/ the unhung mirror under my cheek/ in the hallway you/ seeing/ three lines/ two bongs & a gun enough/ for a year in/ this winged thing on repeat/ the arrest/ the eve before he set me up/ one of my boys stopped by/ & caught a night/ butterfly by the wing/ as if with no hands/ the off-guard of make-believe beauty/ – Mum/ I let you/ down// P.S. no parole date/ yet/ let them/ sleep/ with one eye/ open/ I am writing/ names in a book/ with my own hand/ the pages are turning/ the tide.

Note. The italicised lines in this poem are from a research interview with a young man who took part in a poetry programme in prison, and kindly allowed his words to be quoted. The poem is not a factual account to protect his anonymity; instead it is an imagined letter bearing witness to his emotional experience of coming into contact with the justice system.



× ×


A boy, like a deer in my lap

sit down baby boy,

hold this colour-change light

with your bare hands,

snag at it, do not be afraid

to show your milk teeth

at your mother,

the hum of her face,

the rough-hewn ghost

hue of a humid day.

Painlessly so, honey-boy,

nest your head on her belly,

like a honeybee colony

in the hollow of a tree.

Somewhere a volcano falls

asleep in its chamber,

and blue-amber waters

ebb and flow untired

of your agonizing

songs and sobs—quick

grab this piece of her flesh,

will you now, even water

borrows the shape

from what holds it, your body

in her arms is a jewel,

glisten boy, if you can,

like a breast readied for breastfeeding,

hold it tight, this promise of love—

oh, you little overachiever,

eavesdropping on your mother’s heartbeat

for six months of your babyhood,

the worst espionage, her past,

a glimpsed solitude, you poke

and turn, its night-shade tulips,

its moonshade carnations,

the thousand-yard stare—

Awash, awake, your body

blooms inside the room, darling boy,

hold onto me, as if an incantation,

in a low voice, a mother

is a choice - if only,

I can leave behind

the crime, and the need

to be forgiven.


Rights to Her Own Nakedness

× ×

Rights to Her Own Nakedness

After Beckett

Note. Meant to be staged or delivered spoken out loud as internal monologue of dissociated stream of consciousness, a traumatic flashback.

[GIRL]: of abuse … I do not speak … the crooked problem … reappears … decades after … my mind forgets … it’s meant to be forgetting …the way the boy … searched for … the clitoris is … unabashed … an audio …. fizzing through … the clever lad … pushed … through & through … who can talk his way … through any-thing … the easy one … the girl … how can she … not be … he had … tried … fencing … sort of … roughing it up … nature has its own way … fencing me around … a specious place … comes to mind … anything … a secret … garden … a solution to … danger … until … the grip … loosens its authority … he feigns it … not to feel … the push … push back again … three more times … pull away! … but where? …

the landlord is his mother … the room … un-remarkable … not quite … sex … he shot himself in the foot … I don’t know … what you … want … he speaks up … eager to please … to be pleased … he will … win … this … the boy does …

a smug look … risks it … the intention … of the deed … just teenagers … fooling around …

a scribbled body … of a girl … reappears … in her prime … her prime problem … a rite of passage … rape … after …. rape … unspecific … opaque workings of the rain … clockwork contraptions … to be ... I tried … not a single time … or place … the apartment … super-modern … su-perb … to be … the man … on top … he can’t … really stand it … can’t stand … the weight … of his own … body … under scrutiny … effective … for … deadening … equivalent to … fast-forward … wildly conscious … wildly self-conscious … he puts in on … the late face … of his late childhood … nothing … will save … this … the mind … runs through it all … a brick-wall … dots on a landscape … shadow-clouds … come into focus … the window … mute panes … checkered with rain … grass fields … dampen … where the van … attains … the colour of the horizon …

a blackout … on the other end of the helpline … the vagina is elastic … most vaginal injuries … the voice of the nurse … slivered … through consensual sex … elastic … as aesthetic … nothingness … hoards itself … still … a property of a kind … spindly so … this … a montage … after the fact …

The title is a line from Sharon Old’s poem Ode of Girls’ Things from Odes (2016).


Praying for Radical Humility the Day my Probation Officer Abandons All Hope for my Reform

× ×

Praying for Radical Humility the Day my Probation Officer Abandons All Hope for my Reform

How many adults

put a blind eye to child abuse?

Behind baby-peach curtains fret

lilac fists, cradled, muddy-muffled screams –

a fine-sunburnt fur fires across the courtyard,

the feline yogi meows and yawns

then yields on the meagre mat of grass,

I drown the guilt of my own trespass:

dear Body of mine,

forgive the paedophile,

the bogey-face of my line-manager

in my uncle’s apartment,

the neighbour’s iron-pressed shirt

hung on the window of his living-room

the probation officer at my doorstep

puts out a half-finished fag and says:

It’s not worth going after a few thousand pounds,

Justice Courts are like hungry dogs

He yanks the Volvo door open,

eyes tight-shut on his globe-spun head,

left hand in the air as if to catch a prey

– and he’s gone – I lag on the curb

turn my slight of hand to barley blades

of a flag leaf – will my victims ever heal? –

I save lavender stalks for the fireplace

and tiptoe across the freshly mowed lawn

and lock behind – to find the purring stray

curled and fast asleep on my reading chair.


The Body’s True Regret

× ×

The Body’s True Regret

You need to tell your husband the truth how the milky hands that pressed your spine now dangle by the side of your father’s hips. Why you refused to breastfeed or kiss your daughter on the lips how her small form frightens you–tell him, how each time you hold her body in your embrace something breaks along the line of your collar bone. How the brush of her skull on your skin feels unbearable.

One day you will come home from work, walk past her baby-scented room, make a U-turn, for the paring knife, along the corridor, let the flow of bloodstream map out the leaf-patterned tiles of the kitchen floor— as you count the cracks on the ceiling until you faint—the way you feigned dead when you were little, in the house it all slipped through your fingers – flick through the sweet memory one last time – the pages of a picture book family: here is the house, here is the red triangle of the roof, here is the room, the nursery rhymes, the outline of an innocent babe, returning to the scene of the rape—oh, look, the red is on the roof is on fire—


Research behind
the poems

Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and history of trauma are often defined by risk, not strength. At risk of doing poorly in school, at risk of poor mental health or chronic illness, at risk of offending.

Disadvantaged young people are rarely defined by their excellence, power and ability to create change despite adversity. It is well-known that in the past 50 years there has been an increased international interest in how the creative arts can complement young people’s well-being, across sectors from education to prison. It is also known that in post-conflict countries in the South-Eastern Europe, institutional conditions across education and prison are substandard, and there is a disproportionate policing primarily affects the Roma ethnic group, followed by Albanian.

It is less well known how young people experience the arts in prison and why popular youth art forms like hip-hop music and spoken word poetry continue to be woefully underrepresented, or entirely omitted. My research intervened in this context and introduced a new arts programme together with an ethnically mixed group of young offenders, poets and hip-hop artists in a Macedonian prison. Young people grew to see the programme as mainly a space to resist social stigma, voice unspeakable trauma, and belong to a community, in contrast to their reports of social marginalisation and exclusion.

I found that the programme opened the possibility of a significant deep shift in young men’s sense of self, highlighting their beliefs of ‘criminal immutability’ as mediated by social stigma, a key obstacle to imagine change. As researcher, I realised that intended help based on punishment and individual accountability ignores young offenders’ needs as trauma victims and the impact of social oppression. In contrast, the programme’s creative space acknowledged these barriers, beginning to restore faith in healing and fair justice.

I turned to poetry inquiry to critically explore my own role in the research as a minoritised white woman working with marginalised and minoritized young men in prison. I wanted to share the knowledge generated through the lived experiences and the research I conducted within and beyond the walls of academia. I see poetic licence, the right to obscure fact, whilst staying true to the emotion, a credible way to share the research whilst protecting the privacy of participants and myself as a researcher.

Poetry as research, when harnessed carefully, has the potential to unlock liminal aspects of experience, producing a range of knowledges not easily accessible through traditional methods. Even though poetry relies on language, a poem points to the non-verbal, and the truth of the body, central to trauma. For vulnerable researchers, reckoning with adversity becomes a necessary component of enacting an ethics of care in research which can honour the experiences of participants in their own right.

hanged printed paper on wire

I loved learning about all the participants experiences of their research life through poetry. It was amazing to see how diverse our perspectives are and how it translates into our creative writing.

Dr Alisa Zyryanova

Dr Alisa Zyryanova
Cambridge Institute for Medical Research
(Biological Sciences)

I research “fitness drugs”. Each cell that builds our body has its own fitness programme. Such programme helps cells stay healthy, just like leading a balanced lifestyle helps us stay healthy too. Cells that lack fitness programme would suffer more from illnesses and changes in the surrounding environment. Unforeseen genetic factors or a substantial outside stress can even draw fit cells out of balance posing a threat of bigger damages to our body. “Fitness drugs” would help our cells and our body achieve the right balance through an iterative training programme.

About the poems

My poems represent my experience of being a wet lab-based scientist. A person in a white lab coat wearing purple nitrile gloves holding a pipette. They give a snap shot of practical work that a scientist like me would be exposed to, as well as my personal thoughts and reflections on the topic.

The poems:

Where: How did I get here?

× ×

How did I get here?

When I was a schoolgirl

I told my friend

I am going to invent

An anti-ageing skin cream

That will work

As I reflect on that

I surprise myself

To be a part (so small)

Though of a research potential

Trialling for brain rejuvenation

Footnote: Sometimes we need to pause and appreciate the place where we are now, where we came from and where we are going to.


What: An Experiment

× ×

An experiment

I lay my tubes out

On a rack

32 of them

Plus the control

I start signing

With number one

And a date

And then continue

From left to right

Until I reach 32

And C for Control

Still thinking about that date

Should I really date all of them?

Else these are only marked by numbers

With the same aliquot of clear liquid

In each one of them

It seems like such a waste of time

The signing

The experiment is joy

Of course


You gotta do it

And everybody knows

In science

we repeat experiments

Exactly three times

Or more

if it’s a joy

Or less

if it’s a real pain

Then just admit

To your reviewers

It was a pain indeed

Starting with: “Dear Doctor …”

And anyhow

My tubes are laid in front of me

Ready to receive

Their one and only


Footnote: Working in the lab is lots of fun and lots of routine, troubleshooting, improvising, praying that you will see a sharp band.



× ×


G – T – P

E – I – F – 2

E – I – F – 2 – B

I – S – R

E – I – F – 2 - P

E – I – F – 2 – B

I – S – R – I – B

E – I – F – 2 – P

E – I – F – 2 – B

G – D – P

G – T – P

Footnote: This is a cryptic description of a cellular signalling pathway named the Integrated Stress Response (ISR) that we study in the lab. Abbreviations can alienate an unprepared reader.


Cake Supernatural
(a Rhyming Protocol)

× ×

Cake Supernatural

This is an ode

To a Western Blot

An important technique

That makes scientists tick

If you ever need help

To chase protein matter

Then this might be the thing

That would make you feel better

Step I - Gel electrophoresis

With the three main steps

Using extracts from cells

We first size proteins up

In acrylamide gel

Step II - Transfer

While the gel is still hot

Using solid support

We shall build

An inedible sandwich

With a bit of a labour

Let us put paper onto membrane

Onto gel onto paper

Wrapped around with two

Sponge fibre pads

Then avoiding much mutter

Sandwich lands in tris-glycine-methanol buffer

Where electric current applied

Makes charged proteins fly

While they stick like a glue

Marking membrane with a clue

Step III - Detection

As detectives can’t wait

Moving on to third step

We shall use antibodies

As protein bait

For these primary captors

There are secondary adaptors

That will light our way

With chemiluminescent rays

With a bit of a luck

Protein will show itself up

And in essence that’s what

Neal Burnette named Western Blot

Footnote: Western Blot – is a laboratory technique used in molecular biology for detection of biological molecules called proteins. Its name was coined by Neal Burnette in comparison to similar techniques used for detection of other biological molecules: Southern Blot (for detection of DNAs), and Northern Blot (for detection of RNAs).


Why: Blue Skies Science
(an Ode to a Bacterial Colony)

× ×

Blue Skies Science (an Ode to a Bacterial Colony)

Looking at the petri dish

Dotted with colonies of E. coli

I am pondering over

Our place in the Universe

Hidden beyond the blue skies

Are we here to absorb the world

To uncover the mysteries

To deliver an explanation

To accept the full package?


Are we here to change the world

To challenge the world

To finally find a better world

To escape to the far and beyond?

Perhaps we are both

And neither

We are many

And we are one

Just like an E. coli colony

a speck or a Universe

Staring at me

While I stare at the blue sky

Footnote: Blue skies science describes limitless questions one can ask and attempt to answer in a pursuit of a discovery of the ways our natural world works.


About her research

I am a molecular biologist. I try to harness the fundamental signals that are keeping our cells’ and overall body’s health balanced by studying “fitness” drugs. When a cell gets stimulated from outside by a change in the environment, say lack of nutrients, exposure to toxins, or a viral attack, it produces an internal response which culminates in sort of switching on a light bulb.

This light bulb, which is more like a lighthouse, signals to all the cellular components that keep its health in check to build up its defences. Once the invasion is repulsed the lighthouse switches off and the life of all the cellular dwellers carries on. To get ready for a future attack in a more efficient speedy way, and to dismiss the defence once it is no longer needed unleashing the resources required for normal cellular activities, various cell types comprising different body organs must fine tune the work of their cellular lighthouses accordingly. Inadequate defence response, too much or too little, can result in broader damages to our body.

The power of “fitness” drugs lies in their ability to perform such fine tuning of cellular lighthouses, benefiting those cells and body organs affected either genetically or by a severe outside challenge.

"I found that poetry opens up opportunities to say things with a directness and clarity that prose (and especially academic prose) makes hard. Nobody will fault you for not muddying your writing with caveats, citations, circumambulations, and clarifications when you are writing in verse, you can just say what you want to say. And when you are writing about existential risk that may be no bad thing!"

Dr SJ Beard

Dr SJ Beard
Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (Humanities and Social Sciences)

SJ Beard is a Senior Research Associate and Academic Programme Manager at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. They work across the centres research projects, including thinking about the ethics of human extinction; developing methods to study extreme, low probability, and unprecedented events; understanding and addressing the constraints that prevent decision makers taking action to keep us safe; and building existential hope in the possibility of safe, joyous, and inclusive futures for human beings on planet earth. They also help with coordinating our communications, fundraising, policy engagement, events, and visitor programmes. SJ has a PhD in Philosophy from the London School of Economics and have twice stood for election to the UK Parliament.

The poems:

“We cannot know what the fates have in store for us / Yet wisdom and courage can help reveal / possibilities we had not dreamed ourselves / And maybe careful planning can allow / us some small control over which of those dreams / is manifest / In hope that our futures may be sweeter / And our nightmares more fleeting”

A Strange Inheritance

× ×

A Strange Inheritance

How strange it is

to be alive

To share in that tenacity

of adaptation and resilience

that has shaped an entire planet

for millennia

to meet its needs


a simple molecule

By chance

Started turning things around it

into copies of itself

And kept on doing so

And kept on doing so

And because that molecule

was your ancestor

you too spend your time

transforming air, and water,

and many other things

into more of you

(How wonderful!)

And keep on doing so

And keep on doing so

And later

some little cells

and other little cells

quite different

merged together

And in doing so

The outer cells

Carried a source of energy

(That they could use

to make more of themselves)

around with them

And could pass that energy on

to other cells nearby

And with that simple trick

there was a reason for some of these

to form close knit groups

of little cells

all alike

And bind themselves together close

And even to start taking on

Special duties

Securely supporting

and being supported by

their breatharian

And because some of those cells

were your ancestors

The millions of cells

you call your own

are a body to you

(How wonderful!)

And you are one

not many

Yet never alone

And because those cells

lived in ancient seas

Your body is filled

with briny water too

And so much of what you do

depends upon the migration

of salts across

the same molecular gradients

your ancestors once called home

And because those cells

never lived alone

but in a complex web of life

Your body too

is an ecosystem

containing myriads of living things

that make a home for you

Harmlessly co-existing

(Most of the time)

just like they always did

Turning one another’s waste

into new life

That’s how it goes

(Most of the time)

And later still,

of course,

some of these bodies

found yet more ways

of merging

into new things

The building blocks of life

were never set in stone

And every now and then

cells would share

their DNA

(Making new combinations

That might turn into bodies

better able to cope with

What life threw at them)

But somehow,

some bodies,

started doing this

More often

Their cells

Taking on new roles

As carriers of half the code

Searching for another half

to bind to for completeness

Permitting the slow process

Of evolutionary change

To accelerate, dramatically

And because some of those bodies

were your ancestors

You too can have sex

if you want to

(How wonderful!)

And you are entirely unique

the product of a single


Made up of cells

quite unlike those

found anywhere else

in the universe

And what of that point

when bodies in search

of food

or mates

or safety

found ways of responding

to the world around them

Or ways or manipulating

their tissues and organs

to change how they were

So that they started

not simply to be

But to behave

to sense

or chose

This happened many times,

we know

But, because one of these sentient new minds

was your ancestor,

you too have perception and control

consciousness and free will

(How wonderful!)

That mystery of being

a mind

in a world where minds seem out of place

A mystery no mind

has yet resolved

(But that makes sense

Because, it’s not a mystery, any mind created

but only life in its endless wonder)

And oh

what finally of that point

When some of these minds

began to think

To use words and symbols

to express and understand themselves

Whenever did that happen

and why?

Who knows

Not me

And yet it did

And ever since, young minds

have learned to learn themselves

to make people out of bodies

spirits out of cells

And flesh and bones

have learned how to cooperate

in ways no other lifeform ever could

A whole planet networked

with wires

and roads

and social bonds

With trade,


and conflict

Just getting by

Doing life’s work

Making more of ourselves

Grouping together, specializing,

loving and fighting

knowing and changing

But this time with meaning

And purpose

And even understanding

Breaking and mending

a world

that we made for ourselves

To inhabit

as life has always done

And because you are you

And you know you are you

You too

are descended

from those first people

Just like me

(How wonderful!)

You too bear the burden

of trying to work out

what that means

And what we must do

to stay alive

It is a strange inheritance




× ×


I remember well the first

time I heard the warning

to king Croesus

from the oracles

at Delphi and at Thebes

That were he to invade Persia

a mighty empire would be destroyed

It sent shivers down my spine to hear

of such a warning

being misinterpreted

as a blessing

Yet, while I would not dare

presume to know

the mysteries

of mighty Apollo

I think perhaps I’ve come to understand

a little more about this famous tale

You see, there still remain

some of us who claim

to practise foresight

Yet, when done well

this should not be misunderstood

as an ability


to see into the future.

Rather, our practise is about

bringing together the many varied

visions of this present

So much of which we do not know

And using those to clarify

what is going on right now

and all the many ways this might turn out

We cannot know what the fates have in store for us

Yet wisdom and courage can help reveal

possibilities we had not dreamed ourselves

And maybe careful planning can allow

us some small control over which of those dreams

is manifest

In hope that our futures may be sweeter

And our nightmares more fleeting

Great Croesus could not have known

for certain

that the empire he’d destroy

would be his own

Yet a wise king might still have understood

how this was possible

And we too should be careful

in choosing what we want

that we do not ignore its risks

As if our will were the only thing

that brings the future into being


Seeing is Believing

× ×

Seeing is Believing

The first person to see

The world end twice

For real

Was Luis Alvarez

The same scientist who

Measured the destruction

Of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Also identified

How a strange line in the rocks

Marked that moment all the dinosaurs

Were wiped out

By a meteorite

What a life to have lived

But you too may

On screens

Have seen it happen many times

The world destroyed

By aliens or asteroids

Rogue AI, even sometimes climate change

Although not of a kind that is familiar

To climate scientists

Yet that desire

To see these things for yourself

Is part of what always makes them look the same

Some explosive force arrives

Out of the blue

And lays us all to waste

Just as when the Mesopotamians

First thought that angry gods

Might kill them with a flood

And how that had already happened once

With only a few, virtuous and wise

Humans surviving in an ark

You know that story too

It scares me

Because in many ways

The endings we should fear the most

Are not like that, cannot be seen

Take many forms, as slow

Creeping disintegrations

Of the systems we rely on

Becoming inexorable


And out of our control

And none of us

Should count on seeing

The world end

More than




× ×


Once, in school assembly

Our chaplain talked about St Augustine

He told us how he lived

During a time of great upheaval

Because the Roman Empire was collapsing

And, unironically,

I thought how interesting it must be

To live through such a time

In fact, the fall of Rome

Was rather slow

It took centuries, or longer

The final kings

Who claimed that their authority

Descended from the Caesars, fell

Only after world war one

So, while this period saw many upheavals

It is likely that at the time

It felt rather less interesting

Than we think of it in hindsight

Indeed, many of those who lived through it

likely saw themselves

As just carrying on, as people always had

Clear that the real catastrophe

Was happening somewhere else

Could it be the same with us?

Not knowing

If our age

Is interesting

Or just another stage

In the gradual transition

Of the past into the future.

And if it is, what will future generations

Make of our decline?

Might they argue, just as we do

Over whether it was caused

By corrupt power

Or rising superstition

Or will they have forgotten

All about us and our petty struggles?

Or will they even come to be at all?

For me the most interesting thing

About living, right now,

Is the not knowing


The Turtle Dove

× ×

The Turtle Dove

The turtle dove

is calling again

outside my window pane

His call,

Turr Turr,

a solemn evocation of his name.

Last year he called all summer


without a mate

Love’s martyr

a bird known

for its lifelong devotion


He makes his lonely home

next to an ancient road

people have been walking for a thousand years

or more.

A road that once carried the footsteps

of William the conqueror

and his army,

The only safe path to Ely

across the fens

before we built dykes to drain them,

or the warming sea will rise to claim them

But that, this moment, is little but a track.

A way along which people long have heard

the turr turr

of these burnished birds

since when they were so common

Solomon sang of them to announce the spring

Yet now, how long before

we don’t hear them again?

The turtle dove is calling

to my heart.

Its solemn pleas

for a future and a part

of life’s inheritance, to every living thing

A wildness born of being as you are,

A place in the great family of things,

A grief for what may never come again,

A plaintive hope that this song will last

not disappear!



"Through the experience with Cambridge Creative Encounters I have discovered poetry as a mean to talk about my research, and about myself as a researcher, which I’m greatly enjoying."

Dr Lorena Escudero

Dr Lorena Escudero
Department of Radiology (School of Clinical Medicine)

About the research

My research focuses on applying my skills in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, gained as a Particle Physicist, to analyse radiological images in cancer research.

About the poems

One of my poems (video) is about Data Science, and represents a dialogue between the data scientist/researcher and the data. 

The other poem talks about the human side: certain struggles we face as researchers, our mental health, and how we need to embrace the uncertainty in what we do and that we don't have all the answers. 

The poem:

But we stubbornly disregard that wisdom
hiding in the untold of our dark days
the most important piece of information worth sharing
that the falls exist
and that no one has reached the light without going through them

Things we don't talk about

× ×

Things we don't talk about

There are two things

we don’t talk about:

the falls and the jumps.

We pretend

that falls never happen.

We feel so bad

so worthless

down there

in the fall

every single of the many times in which that happen

that we purposely ignore that we did

spend some time, so very many times,

down there

as soon as we rise again

as soon as the experiment finally works

as soon as the paper is published

we wipe from existence the dark moments in the fall

that we all experience

absolutely every one of us

as the job indeed requires it

but we insist it doesn’t

we insist on believing is our fault

a reason to feel shame

something not to talk about.

And we keep on going

refusing to acknowledge

the falls

down there

that piece of reality

expecting us

teaching us

more than the prize we look after.

But we stubbornly disregard that wisdom

hiding in the untold of our dark days

the most important piece of information worth sharing

that the falls exist

and that no one has reached the light without going through them

condemning with our denial,

with our fake super power of avoiding the falls,

perpetuating the collective misery

of the ones coming behind

who will inevitably sink there, momentarily,

or maybe eternally

feeling shameful

so worthless

down there

ignorant that the falls

exist for a reason:

to come up from them

with a new solution

with a novel idea

with an answer.

We also don’t talk

about the jumps either.

We have learnt to ignore

the bars on the staircase

blended with the style of the concrete building

but also preventing

the jumps

the desperation

because it’s not allowed to quit

because it’s not allowed to work less

because it’s not allowed to free your weekend

to have a family

to buy a house

to stop

moving from one country to another.

Admittedly, the jumps are easier

to shut one’s eyes to

than the falls:

they don’t come as often

and nobody else is there to look


follows the steps that take them to the bridge

or the top floor;

the only witnesses

are the imposed expectations

they carry everywhere

like a shadow.

Let’s be honest.

The jumps are tragic

consequence of the oblivious

of the so many falls


and they will both continue


for as long

as we deny them.


‘You, Me and Us’

"Taking part in Cambridge Creative Encounters has been a unique opportunity to combine my love of science communication with poetry. Writing poetry has helped me to see my research through a different lens and consider cancer research from many different perspectives."

Dr Kirsty Ferguson

Dr Kirsty Ferguson
Wellcome MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute (Clinical Medicine)

Kirsty Ferguson is a Research Associate in the laboratory of Professor Anna Philpott at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute. She is researching neuroblastoma, the most common extracranial solid tumour in children. These tumours occur when immature cells in the developing sympathetic nervous system fail to specialise and begin dividing uncontrollably. The aim is to develop kinder treatments for neuroblastoma patients that both force cancer cells to stop dividing and direct them down their correct developmental path. Outside of the lab, Kirsty is an aspiring poet. She believes observation is an essential process to both science and poetry and finds that writing poetry helps to improve her ability to observe the world and communicate her thoughts and ideas.

About the poems

The poetry collection ‘You, Me and Us’ reflects on patient tissue donation (the ‘you’), life as a research scientist and research culture (the ‘me’), and patient perspectives (the ‘us’, as cancer likely affects us all in some form during our lives). I began writing poetry in the Covid-19 lockdowns during which reading and writing poems provided a great deal of comfort and helped me to become more observant of my surroundings. Through this collection, I hope to both provide the public and patients with new insights into the process of cancer research and help scientists take a step back from minutiae in the lab to observe their work from different perspectives. 

The poems:

“To pause and stop
And just observe
Is a skill
I’m always learning”.

It’s about time

× ×

It’s about time

It’s nineteen seventy-one,

And a young boy of four

Has a tumour removed.

It’s twenty twenty-three

And his cells of fifty-two

Are frozen in a time capsule.

It’s nine thirty am

On September the third,

A scientist is deep in thought.

It’s about time

To stop these cells,

To end their evil onslaught.

Too many children

Have their lives cut short

To cancer, a great sorrow.

It’s about time

To stop the clock.

Ensure cancer has no tomorrow.


I find it quite amazing that we can grow cells in the lab from a patient’s tumour that was removed decades ago. ‘It’s about time’ considers this concept of time, from a patient in 1971 to a scientist in 2023. Research takes time and involves incremental change, yet there is no denying the vast improvements in our knowledge and treatment of cancer over recent decades. And this research will continue, day after day, until cancer has no tomorrow. 


× ×


S K N B E two C,

Did you live to see the moon?

I M R thirty-two,

Did you see the summer through?

Kelly, LAN five and S Y five Y,

If you perished, it was not in vain.

You can rest in peace, in the knowledge that

Your legacy here remains.


When tumour tissue is donated by a patient the cells can be grown in the laboratory into what is called a ‘cell line’. These cells form an integral part of pre-clinical research, leaving a legacy behind that will help improve future lives. Anonymous identifiers are given to these cells in the lab, such as the neuroblastoma cell lines ‘SKNBE(2)C’ and ‘IMR-32’. However, behind this string of letters and numbers is a patient that we as scientists know very little about. I hope this poem both inspires patients and their families to consider tissue donation for research and provides some comfort knowing the invaluable legacy this leaves. For scientists, it reminds us to take a step back and appreciate the life beyond the letters.


‘Path-finding’ is depicted in the form of a stem cell hierarchy: the master stem cell, which can divide and become many different specialised cells is at the top, and cells become progressively more specialised through different paths as you move down the tree. Sometimes these paths go wrong, for example in neuroblastoma, cells become stuck in an immature state. In this way, paths can lead to evil. However, paths are changeable and can also lead to hope; we are researching ways of manipulating this to send cancer cells back down the ‘right’ path that development intended. The reader is invited to take their own path, exploring the different possibilities this poem can take, and remembering, finally, that the fickleness of nature means that paths can lead to evil, but it also means that they can lead to hope


× ×



You look a bit lost,

What are you doing here?

I think you took

A wrong turn somehow,

And should have turned right back there!

Here take this map,

To neuron-end,

And follow the steps with care.

And this torch,

To light up your path –

Soon you’ll find your way there.


In the Philpott laboratory we are working towards discovering new therapies for the childhood cancer called neuroblastoma. Neuroblastoma are formed by cells in the developing nervous system that go down the wrong path – instead of becoming specialized cells, such as neurons, they begin to divide uncontrollably. We are investigating ways of ‘differentiating’ these cells, that is sending them back down the path that development intended. Such therapies could present a kinder treatment for developing infants, as the treatment does not aim to kill the cells. In the poem ‘Kindness’, the kinder treatment is directing neuroblastoma back to ‘neuron-end’ with a map of development. With this poem I hope to convey the aim of our research both to adults and children.


× ×


Ideas swirl around my mind,

In a chaotic condensate.

Ideas flit from side-to-side,

As a pendulum oscillates.

Sometimes ideas

Pass through like birds –

In flight to a faraway land.

I have to catch them

By the tail,

A feather in my hand.

Quick! Fashion a quill,

Find some ink,

Or I know I’ll forget this later.

The ideas they flap,

they swing and compact,

Until the moment,

They’re immortalised on paper.


Keeping detailed notes and records is a vital part of being a scientist. Of course, our laboratory books are often regimented and structured for planning and performing experiments. However, science is very creative, and we must also make records of our ideas. For me, these thoughts are often more fleeting and chaotic, just like when I write poetry! And as with all ideas, writing and ‘immortalising’ them often provides a new sense of clarity.


× ×


Take a little

Time to observe,

What is it I see?

Pause and stop and

Take a breath

Now -

What’s in front of me?

What is that?

How very strange.

I’ve not noticed that before.

Perhaps it’s worth

Some exploration -

My mind boots up once more.

I hear a whirring

Inside my head;

The cogs are ever-turning.

To pause and stop,

And just observe,

Is a skill

I’m always learning.


For me poetry is inspired by observations; I began writing poetry during the Covid-19 lockdowns when I stopped to better observe the world around me. In scientific research, observations are often the foundation upon which hypotheses is built. Yet sometimes it is hard to cut out the noise and take a step inwards, or outwards. Indeed, to stop and observe, is a skill I’m always learning, both inside and outside the laboratory.

Success in Science

× ×

Success in Science

Success in science is hard to define,

What pops into your mind?

A Nobel Prize, the impact factor,

A finding that’s one of a kind?

Success is measured in more ways than one,

What does it mean to you?

With a different perspective we can find success

In not only the year but the everyday too.


We work in a team and voice our ideas,

Two heads are better than one.

All around the world we collaborate and share

To gain knowledge that is second to none.

We pass on our skills to the next generation,

Just as others have filled our own cup.

We mentor each other and throw down ladders,

To help others that are on their way up.

We communicate our research and our aims

To make the world a cancer-free place.

We share evidence and ask questions of own,

For an inquisitive mind there is always space.

Getting through each day can sometimes be a test,

Experiments don’t always go as planned.

But we pick ourselves up and think again and again,

As the more we persist the more we understand.

For each day brings us a step closer,

To ease a patient’s pain and struggle.

Every experiment like a pin prick,

That is gradually bursting the cancer bubble.


Success in science we can all share,

Even in ways we may think are small.

For these make up the foundation of research,

So, let’s recognise and celebrate them all.


There are traditional measures of success in the research community, but should they be the only ways we define our success? The experiences that have stood out for me during my scientific career include working in a team from around the world, sharing ideas, teaching the next generation of scientists, communicating research to the public and, ultimately, being part of a bigger picture to improve the lives of cancer patients. These are all, I think, fundamental to a functioning and successful research community, and are successes that we can all share and recognise. 

Think, Pipette, Repeat.

× ×

Think, Pipette, Repeat.

It’s time to take a break,

Take a walk outside.

Grab a coffee with a friend,

A moment to clear your mind.

Today I took a break

And I bought a macaroon;

Mrs Crimble’s finest baking,

Her face on a wooden spoon.

The slogan made us all chuckle,

To ‘Live, Love and Bake’.

We shared ideas of lab mottos,

Laughed ‘til our tummies ached.

Yes, it was time to take a break,

And enjoy a sweet treat.

Back to work refreshed,

Ready to ‘Think, Pipette, Repeat’.


This poem was inspired by one of my favourite poems, ‘The Orange’ by Wendy Cope, and a break I shared with a lab colleague. It was simple - a walk downstairs, a sweet macaroon and a good old laugh. And it was enough to set us up for the rest of the day. Sometimes 10 minutes is better spent clearing your mind than trying to squeeze more into an already saturated one. Ask a colleague and who knows, maybe this small interaction will brighten both of your days.

The Words Unspoken

× ×

The Words Unspoken

This is a poem

Of the words unspoken.


In this project I wanted to portray the voices of those with lived experience of neuroblastoma. Tragically this disease mostly inflicts infants and young children under five, who sadly may have not even spoken yet. The poem ‘The Words Unspoken’ is in remembrance of the children lost to this devastating disease and represents their words that remain unspoken. 

Fly High

× ×

Fly High

None of us

had heard the word


until that frightful day.

Just 18 months old,

Tumour size of a fist,

With ten per cent chance

of surviving, they say.

Then chemotherapy, surgery,

A stem cell transplant;

We were so proud

Of her fighting spirit.

Radio- ,

Differentiation - ,


And he never complained one bit.

This cancer -

It was relentless.

What would we fight

It with now?

There’s a lasting impact

When a child has cancer,

But we continue through,


My little angel

Slipped away that morning,

As I whispered ,

“I love you, fly high”.

Now up above ,

With wings they spread,

Sparkles of hope

In the deep blue sky.

See everyone

needs a bit of hope,

Even just,

A tiny glimmer.

You never know the journey

Life will take you on-

Remember to look

For the things that shimmer.

Put your heart and soul

Into what you want to achieve-

Don’t let cancer

Hold you back.

I truly wish you

A future you deserve,

Fly high,

And never look back.


‘Fly High’ was inspired by quotes from personal stories of neuroblastoma patients and their families shared by the charity Neuroblastoma UK– these words are italicised in the poem. It was important to me to represent the voices of patients and their families with lived experience of neuroblastoma in this project, including those who have tragically passed away and those who look back on their childhood experience of neuroblastoma and how it has shaped their lives now. The message ‘fly high’, words from Beth’s story, speaks to children who are now angels, those who have survived neuroblastoma and fly high despite side-effects, and families who continue to navigate this path alongside their children and courageously share their stories. Thank you to Neuroblastoma UK and all those who allowed me to share their words through this poem, namely Georgia’s dad, Richard; Sayra; Becky; Charlotte; Lauren; and Beth’s mum, Jill.  You can read their stories here:

About her research

Kirsty’s research focuses on the intersection of stem cell and cancer biology - where development goes awry, and cancers develop. She completed a PhD at the University of Edinburgh working on the molecules driving ‘cancer stem cells’ in an aggressive adult brain cancer called glioblastoma.

Now at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute she researches the childhood cancer neuroblastoma. Neuroblastoma is the most common extracranial solid tumour in children and arises from cells of the developing nervous system which do not specialise properly, instead proliferating uncontrollably to give rise to tumours. As part of Professor Anna Philpott’s research group, she is looking for ways to specialise or ‘differentiate’ these tumours using drugs, to both stop the cancer cells from dividing and lead them down the pathway normally taken in development.




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