Tag Archive: Lesley Saunders


I’m excited to announce our next event at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science for the 2012 Cambridge Science Festival.

It will be an evening of poetry and Oulipo-inspired discussion, playing with ideas of mathematics and measuring the world.

Two excellent guest speakers, Dr Joe Crawford of Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, and the talented Badaude of Oxford, will speak about their contributions to the Whipple’s first art-book (forthcoming):

by Badaude

Wednesday 14 March 6:00PM – 7:00PM

Drawing inspiration from the Whipple Museum’s Hutchinson collection of mathematical instruments,we will discuss constraints of creative form in literature and poetry, from Oulipo to the Gothic. Poet Lesley Saunders will share excellent new poems inspired by the Hutchinson Collection.

This event is free but please book by emailing hps-whipple-museum@lists.cam.ac.uk

Contributors to the book, ‘The Rules of Form: Sonnets & Slide Rules,’ which will be forthcoming from the Whipple, include poet Lesley Saunders, PhD student Caitlin Wylie, and artist & designer Cassie Herschel-Shorland, as well as Joe Crawford and Badaude.

 Come along for a fascinating evening with Sonnets & Slide Rules!

Lesley explaining the inspiration for her work.

One week ago I had the privilege of hosting poet Lesley Saunders for a reading at the Whipple Museum. In my previous post, I explained how we’d ended up crossing paths – thanks to Lesley getting in touch – and it was lovely to hear her read from her growing collection of science-inspired poems.

One of the amazing things we noticed was how certain objects had attracted our attention separately, such as the Sunshine Recorder and the Cloud Camera. Lesley has poems about each one, and I’ve particularly noticed those in the past, both at the Whipple Museum and at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, whilst carrying out research on the Herschels. Indeed, the Herschels were another topic we’d both been inspired by, and Lesley has a poem about Caroline Herschel – the heroine of my novel-in-progress. We’d both been amazed by the Dillon Weston glass fungi models; Lesley has a poem sparked by these, and I held the Fantastic Fungus Day at the Whipple because of the Weston models. Anatomical models also separately intrigued us, and my next poetry project is to do with the anatomical wax models at a museum in Florence, whilst Lesley has written about the Auzoux papier-mache anatomical models at the Whipple.

We held the reading in front of William Herschel's 10-ft telescope in the newly refurbished Main Gallery.

Why, we wondered, do some objects in the Museum capture the attention of poets? Or, to be fair, capture the attention – of anyone? Of course, many of Lesley’s poems were inspired by objects I hadn’t taken particular notice of, just as some of the Museum items I’ve been particularly interested in, such as astronomical compendia, haven’t come across Lesley’s path. But there was quite a lot of overlap. It is one of these circumstances where the artist side of me wants to be superstitious, and the scientist side of me wants to find a reason… In some cases, it seems the object itself captivates: the glass fungi or the compendium are pieces of art in their own right, and beautiful, and unusual enough so the function isn’t immediately evident. I might argue that the Herschel 10-ft telescope (in the photo on the right) is also a piece of art, but it’s also pretty clearly a telescope, and is important to me because of the story behind it.

After Lesley took us on a wonderful journey of words through the Museum’s collection, I read some new poems. There was, as one guest said, a complimentary contrast between our work. While Lesley’s selection for this reading were her Museum-inspired poems, my work this time is liminally ‘scientific’.

The poems I’ve been writing this past year are all to do with my family, specifically, with helping my grandparents at the end of their lives. I was home in the States for the autumn and Christmastime 2010 to help care for them; full-on, 24-7 care, and then home in February for my Grandmother’s funeral, and home in June/July for my Grandfather’s funeral. This has meant a seismic shift in my family dynamics, my family history, and my personal life, which is coming out in my writing. Because of my immersion in Herschel family research, most of these poems have astronomical and nautical metaphors, thus creating an unintentional but understandable link with both my novel and the Whipple Museum. It was the first time I shared the poems with a public audience and I’m very pleased at the warm response the work received.

Thank you to Lesley for her inspiring reading; thanks to everyone who attended the event; and thank you to Liba, Claire, and Allison at the Whipple. It was a wonderful afternoon.

Caroline Herschel's sweeper. Photo Credit: Science Museum, London.

I’m delighted to promote a poetry reading at The Whipple Museum of the History of Science in Cambridge, where I am writer-in-residence. The reading is at 3pm on Tuesday 26th July, free, and open to the public – please join us if you’re in the area! Phone ahead to book a (free) space: 012 2333 0906; ask for the Whipple Museum.

Some time ago, Lesley Saunders contacted me, sharing poems she’d written which were inspired by objects in the Whipple Museum. It was a fun surprise to realise we’d both been writing about Caroline Herschel – Lesley, through poems, and me, with my novel.

Lesley is an extremely talented, widely published poet. Her publications include The Dark Larder (Corridor Press, 1997); Christina the Astonishing, co-authored with Jane Draycott and illustrated by Peter Hay (Two Rivers Press, 1998); Her Leafy Eye, with images by Geoff Carr (Two Rivers Press, 2009); No Doves (Mulfran Press, 2010);  and a pamphlet Some Languages Are Hard to Dream In, with images by Christopher Hedley-Dent (also Mulfran Press, 2010). She has won several awards, including joint first prize for a portfolio of poems in the 2008 Manchester Poetry Competition.

Much of Lesley’s recent work is inspired by specific places and associations: Her Leafy Eye was set in the 18th century landscaped gardens at Rousham in north Oxfordshire;  and in 2009 Lesley was visiting scholar and poet-in-residence at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, creating a poetry project around the college gardens.  Last year she had a residency at Acton Court, an atmospheric Tudor house and gardens near Bristol that was built for Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn; now she is working on a collection of poems with scientific and medical connotations, sparked off by a visit to the Whipple Museum last autumn.

If familiar with my work, you’ll see that Lesley and I are indeed kindred spirits! Her Whipple-inspired poems epitomize the inspiration which can be gained from science, revealing the art in the material.

Lesley and I will each read from new work and talk about just what scientific forms our muses take.

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