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By Katie McNab on

Celebrating National Poetry Day 2023

For a third year, the Science Museum Group has brought together science and poetry to celebrate National Poetry Day (5 October 2023).

We received a whopping 183 poems in response to our call-out to write a piece inspired by the astonishing and unique objects in our collection. All submitted poems were wonderfully creative, inspiring, funny, heartbreaking, inquisitive. Poems covered a huge variety of forms from ekphrastics to sonnets, odes to epigrams and vastly varied themes: the universe, knowledge cooking, travel, light, atoms, sand. Each poem represents an author discovering an object in our collection, really pondering it and then going on to research it. Poets wrote as if they were the object, or they considered the process of the maker, what the object contributed to science or even what the object meant personally to them. The project has also helped show how intermingled science and the arts can be.

You can read our finalists’ poems below. Each poem has a link through to the object which inspired the poem.

A huge thanks to everyone who participated this year – the quality of the poems were exceptional and so hard to select from.

You too can explore our Collection (and in ode to National Poetry Day, write your own poem) by using our online tools, Random Object Generator or Never Been Seen, which highlights objects not seen by the public before.

Happy National Poetry Day 2023!

Two Paper Envelopes by CArole bromley

Inspired by: Two paper envelopes

No-one popped a cheque inside,
an invitation from a bride,
or a sparkly Christmas card
or a sonnet from a bard.

No-one wrote with fountain pen,
a quill, a biro, felt tip, then
sealed it, put it in the post
to somebody they loved the most.

No-one sent a message home
to say I miss you, so please come.
No-one tucked inside good news
or penned a letter to amuse,

or enclosed their dirty socks
and put them in the letter box
or mailed a scented billet doux
with a stamp on, just for you.

No wonder they’re not on display
though maybe they will have their day;
till then, they are a mystery,
consigned, like us, to history.

Copyright © Carole Bromley

TOOTHPULLER by Ross Clarke

Inspired by: The Toothpuller

Ma told me not to worry,
She said it wouldn’t hurt,
She said ‘he’s in no hurry’
And that I needn’t be alert.

But he clamped me by the face,
With a bare and clammy hand,
I wriggled and I braced
Because I knew what he had planned.

The metal tapped around my teeth
He could’ve knocked all of them out!
I slid my tongue tight underneath
And tried my best to break out!

From outside Ma heard my screams
But even she ignored me!
He yanked hard once; it came out clean,
I told my friends that I was gutsy.

Copyright © Ross Clarke

Preparation by Emilie Lauren Jones

Inspired by: Pastry wheel marker

I take the pastry wheel out of the drawer
and can’t help but think of Grandma
in her green apron, lightly decorated
with floury smudges,
and humming something by Patsy Cline
as her fingertips work the mixture –
never use your palms, it makes it heavy.
Salt is sprinkled like a winter’s snowfall –
you can’t have too much.
Then she draws it together in a ball
before smoothing it out –
half fat to flour.
Without turning her head,
she asks me to fetch her pastry wheel from the pantry –
always keep your utensils as cold as possible.
Her mother had passed on the advice along with the wheel.
I hand it to her –
thanks, Darling
and watch as she swiftly steers the wooden implement,
jigging her dough into a perfectly crimped circle.
She holds the old wheel aloft –
wonderful thing, functional and decorative.
I take in her polished pink nails,
raw pastry clinging to them;
her patent shoes, that green apron,
and nod in agreement.

Copyright © Emilie Lauren Jones

Made in England by D. B. Shadforth

Inspired by: Three trilby hats

Ship’s whistle
Crowd muffled signal
Footfall on gang planks
Hands slide the rail to a new life
One left –
For the balance of shapeshifting
To what he must be:
Hardworking, humbled.
Half-smiling trepidation
Assure both home and host
‘mi deh yah’
The version of himself validated
With the mark of the border crossed.

Copyright © D. B. Shadforth

Yuloh by Michela m

Inspired by: Model of Choro fishing boat

Hear that?

The constant ripples
Conversing with this wood.
A gentle oar stirs the whispers
Of promise and unknowns.

The voices of the fallen
And of all those yet to come
Advise me on my journeys,
Advise me on my run.

The Sakura has shivered;
It shimmers in the sun.
Petals gather in soft breeze,
Sail like lily pads with ease.

Meandering and weaving,
I rush to glimpse anew;
The branches I had once brushed
Were now well beyond my view.

And as I turn back to the water
A young face blends in hue,
As my whispers join the whispers
“When again shall I meet you?”

Copyright © Michela M

Legacy by Joe Cole

Inspired by: Babbage’s Analytical Engine

when i stretch my hands out to eons ago
when i feel the brittle strum of every heartbeat
and glean the drumbeat that moved generations before
i feel so lost
in this skeletal light
revealing cracks of comfort
the rays of purple purposelessness
a hundred hands
a thousand dreams
a million raspy breaths



cast in the green-less glow
of dying iphone
is that all i leave in our wake?

Copyright © Joe Cole

Schrödinger’s Mouse by Jonathan Humble

Inspired by: Folding break-back mousetrap

Your love of my raspberries has resulted
in this late evening walk in headtorch,
to hedges of hazel and blackthorn,
far enough from home to foil ideas of return.

Aware of owls ripping through moonlight,
I kneel in damp fescue and sedge,
clutching this tilt trap of quantum uncertainty;
mouse or no mouse? that is the question.

The trap gate opens. You see me for the first time,
holding the moment in beads of black polished glass,
small body wedged, feet splayed, heart racing,
a quiver of tense, anticipating whiskers.

And in that instant, in that brief connection,
my doubts bubble. This is a good deed isn’t it?
This forced relocation; got to be a better solution
than back breaking death or slow poisoning.

Although I try to convince myself,
I believe you remain sceptical.
I am your nightmare; the one interrupting
your regular midnight feasting,

the one separating you from all your
blind, deaf and hairless babies,
the one from which you must flee in terror
the second the black plastic touches the ground.

But, unlike Mr. McGregor, as I stumble one mile
back through darkling woods, soft clart that I am,
I’m hoping the owls have an off day
and secretly, despite your fruit plundering,

I’d quite like to see you again.

Copyright © Jonathan Humble