Books, Poetry and Prizes

Scientific poetry competitions are catching on.  First there was a genomics
poetry competition
, organised by the Genomics Forum and the Scottish Poetry
Library.  You’ve missed the deadline for entries; winners are due to be
announced in November. More recently the California Institute of Regenerative
Medicine organised a stem cell poetry competition in celebration of Stem Cell
Awareness Day.  They got into some hot water with one of the winning entries and
have withdrawn it as it offended some religious sensitivities.  The Scientist’s
blog Naturally Selected has no such qualms and has republished
the poem
in question. Commenters there praised the poem. 
Meanwhile, book competitions are hotting up. The shortlist
for the Royal Society prize for science books
  was published back in August
and the competition comes to a head on 21 Oct. The Daily
published a guide to the shortlisted titles, tipping Nick Lane’s
book on evolution: Life ascending.  Nature have reviewed
all six books
on the shortlist, as have the Guardian.
gives a vote for Nick Lane too, suggesting his book will
tie with Marcus Chown’s book We need to talk about Kelvin. It also
reports that funding for the prize is in doubt and this may be the last year
that it is organised.
Last week the Wellcome
Trust published their shortlist
 for works of fiction and non-fiction on the
theme of health, illness or medicine. This is the second year of the
competition. It would be nice if they could somehow combine with the Royal
Society prize.
Across the pond, the National Academies awarded
one of their communication prizes to Richard Holmes for his book “The Age of
Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of
This must be good as it also won the Royal Society prize last
year, but personally I found the book a bit like its title – very interesting
but rather wordy and too long.

About Frank Norman

I am a retired librarian. I spent 40 years working in biomedical research libraries.
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10 Responses to Books, Poetry and Prizes

  1. Richard P. Grant says:

     Apparently the RS book prize has failed to secure a sponsor, so it might nit happen next year. Shame.
    <em> The Scientist’s blog Naturally Selectedhas no such qualms and has republished the poem in question. </em>
    Well, you know me, Frank. I’ll republish any old crap.

  2. Lee Turnpenny says:

    They got into some hot water with one of the winning entries and have withdrawn it as it offended some religious sensitivities.
    Free expression alive and well in ‘the land of the free’, eh? Pathetic!

  3. Alejandro Correa says:

    I read the poem and I found that there is no blasphemy, perhaps point depends on how you look.
    It says?.  But wait, there’s more.
    What, I find surprising it is that in a poem it is to look for something that is offensive, if a poem is almost always something so instinctive, a poem is as visceral. But I digress.

  4. Frank Norman says:

    Alejandro - I very much agree. &nbsp;I think there is an argument to be had (perhaps not a very long one) about blasphemy and its acceptability. &nbsp;But I can't see that poem as blasphemous. &nbsp;Looking at definitions of the word I found _gross irreverence towards any person or thing worthy of exalted esteem_. &nbsp;Quoting religious text and using it in a different, metaphorical, way doe not constitute irreverence to my way of thinking.&nbsp;</p>
    Richard – yes it would be a shame to see them go. Maybe Amazon should sponsor the prize.  Or perhaps someone could devise a crowdsourced way to choose the best. 

  5. Richard P. Grant says:

     I hear ya, Frank.

  6. Alejandro Correa says:

    I agree with your point of view, Frank.
    Also is so difficult to interpret a poem, is that is can’t be analyzed, obtaining many results by interpretation.

  7. Frank Norman says:

    I see the Telegraph got it right – Nick Lane won with Life Ascending.

  8. Austin Elliott says:

     The BBC is certainly saying us this will be the last time the Prize is awarded, which seems a real shame. Surely there must be SOME philanthropist somewhere who could sponsor it, even if the PharmaCos have all cried off?

  9. Frank Norman says:

     The BBC report has a quote from Ben Goldacre suggesting that the emphasis on books is a bit out-of-date. @Madgestar described this on Twitter as ungracious, but I think he has a point.  The equivalent US prize that I noted above has categories for best book, best newspaper/magazine, best radio/film/TV, and best online (won by Ed Yong this year). 
    Maybe if the Royal Society prize broadened to cover these categories then they could attract more coverage and funding?

  10. Frank Norman says:

     Maggie Philbin, one of this year’s judges, has written in the Times Higher about the pirze, calling it an "invaluable catalyst" and explaining why it is a valuable part of the science book landscape. 

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