Science Poetry Competition winners and finalists

October 11, 2018

WORD Christchurch

Science Poetry Competition

in association with

Congratulations to Abby Mason for her winning work ‘Newton’s Third Law’ and to all for participating. All 42 entries truly showed that “science is the poetry of reality”.


Abby Mason for ‘Newton’s Third Law’


when i drove to your house
you said
take me somewhere

you didn’t want to talk about your dad
he wasn’t worth talking about
everything you did, set him off.

There was silence, apart from
the grounding of tires
against the dusty road.

It was hard to see straight,
in the dark, on the coast,
with the moon
distancing itself,
making the waves drowsy.

The only light was tiny balls of gas in the sky
and because I took my hand
off the wheel to hold yours
I didn’t see the truck
or the ditch
or the stars,
as we flipped.


Judge Helen Heath says: Newton’s third law says: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. A force is a push or a pull that acts upon an object as a result of its interaction with another object. Forces result from interactions. In this poem, Abby cleverly applies this law of physics as a metaphor for the relationship between her friend and the friend’s father; but also the mechanics of a car crash. What made Abby’s poem stand out, apart from her use of scientific knowledge, was her light touch describing the night drive and her adept use of language. This poem demonstrates confidence not only with understanding and communicating scientific concepts but with subtleties of language, pace and imagery. It reminded me of the great UK science poet — Lavinia Greenlaw’s work.


Highly Commended

Mia Sutherland for ‘Beneath the Crust’


Under the earth
the tectonic plates shudder with joy
as they brush one another.

Convection currents curling like the
marble cake mum made in the oven
which is 33.333 times less hot than
the core of the earth
– or what they say it is.

Imagine if there were great iron hot
elephants under our surface?
You heard me.

Loxodonta with igneous hides
melting and reforming and cooling and
melting again, constantly shedding a new coat.

They walk on the crust
upside down from us.
And when the bull elephants thrust their
granite tusks together
chip the shoulders blades of one another
pierce through warm, soft rock to
molten blood
one of them falls,

It can be felt on the other side
as the earth shakes
and others fall elsewhere.

Calves squirt magma through the
coulees they find
and it erupts through what we call

Our mountains are their valleys they’ve
formed through trampling the tough ground

Our ravines are results of their staple diet
of rock and sediment.

And mum’s marble cake keeps rising
at 180℃ in the oven.


Judge Helen Heath says: This poem employs a fun combination of scientific facts with a highly imaginative mythology, placing them alongside a familiar, domestic, setting to great effect.


Highly Commended

Stephanie Lester for A Dress to Wear in the Lab’


Thumb propped on a test tube,
You stand on the bow,
Of the ship you built
from dolls and skipping ropes

Hand in hand,
You walk ahead of footprints,
Carving your own sculpture
Two hearts at a time

Sketching numbers into sentences
And those into meaning
The hard backed chair
One test tube in a drawer

Work burnt through your pockets
Staining your skin
A tattoo: 84, 88
With an immortal glint

Stolen by your work
Not a slave in the dust
But a conductor,
Bowing under the lights of a stage


Judge Helen Heath says:This poem, about a scientist (I am guessing Marie Curie), stood out for its fresh take on a frequently written topic and its beautiful imagery. 


Honourable Mention

Amelia Kirkness for ‘A Romantic Description of a Meaningless Thought Experiment’


If all your electrons suddenly tunneled beyond their orbits around your atoms
like trillions of renaissance royals escaping assassination,
you could jump through a wall.

If it were a matter of character and you were of a meticulous one, maybe all your particles would go the right distance in the same direction simultaneously, and
you could jump through a wall.

If in many years past the tiniest fractions of others had leapt more than inches
from their current location, countless times before your own coincidence,
you could jump through a wall.

If you could stand the agony as only half of your particles tunneled,
probability billions higher than all at once,
you could jump through a wall.

In theory.


Judge Helen Heath says: A fun thought experiment employing a great use imagery and language.


Honourable Mention

Josh Persico for ‘Tōtara’


The Tōtara with leaves of light, with branches of wind, a trunk of wedding rings. Inside the light, molecules dance.

Inside the wind, vapour sings.

Inside the rings, sun shines.

I’m the heart of the forest.

I shelter the birds.

I’ve a thing about swaying.

Gravity keeps me solid.

I’ve a great relationship with water and the sun.

You need my lungs.

You need my 0₂.

Leave the chainsaw in the shed.


Judge Helen Heath says: A poem with thoughtful imagery alongside an ecological message.


Honourable Mention
Libby Duncan for ‘Glacier Face’


You compare the pimples on your face
To the glacier mountains along the coast.

But that is a hyperbole,

Because your face is not melting
At a rapid rate due to Climate Change.


Judge Helen Heath says: A fun little piece that places climate change in an everyday teenage context.


Honourable Mention
Russell Boey for ‘Five Steps to Brain Death’


The first thing to go is the hippocampus, and with it
the memory.
Short term stuff, nothing crucial (I thought)
like the sight of stars in the dark,
and the onetime gentleness of choking hands.

The second is cognition,
logic, reason, ratiocination,
perhaps we’re past that stage now.

The third is motor function.
Limbs stiffen, eyes flutter, the body shudders.
Death-throes, last desperate jerks screaming for oxygen,
(elemental, not carbonyl, for it was carbon that brought us here)
and maybe the eyes sparkle as they blink,
pleading against the choking hands.

The fourth is sense.
Last sights should be special as last words, but I don’t think there’s anything to see but fire,
and nothing to feel but heat.
Then comes the blinding, the deafening, the choking
it’s always choking in the end.

The fifth is the respiratory system
lungs last the longest but even they die (why must all good things end?)
once they’ve choked for long enough.
That’s what it comes to in the end,
once breath is spent and swallowing stops,
choking, dying smothered.
Life becomes a rock among the stars.


Judge Helen Heath says: I loved the way this dark poem maintained a cool, logical voice while describing a frightening death. Eerie!




Alex Wilson for ‘Planting the Seed of the Solar System’
Elly Fraser for ‘H and H’
Emily Koller for ‘We Are All Made Of Matter’
James Milligan for ‘Calm Before the Storm’
Kitty Jamison for ‘Untiltled’
Kitty Jamison for ‘Life Force’
Mia Sutherland for ‘Your Silver’
Stephanie Lester for ‘Gazing from Rooftops’
Stephanie Lester for ‘Picnics with My Aunt’
Stephanie Lester for ‘How to Tame a Cat’
Tori Marsden for ‘Starlit’
Winifred Davis for ‘The Magic of Fire’

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