Michael J Leach is a science-inspired poet and a Senior Lecturer (Education and Research) at the Monash University School of Rural Health, Bendigo. Michael undertakes quantitative research, lectures on areas such as demographic methods, and runs poetry workshops to encourage reflection and empathy among healthcare students. He holds a Bachelor of Pharmacy, a Graduate Certificate of Science (Applied Statistics), a Certified Health Informatician Australasia (CHIA) certificate, a Master of Biostatistics and a PhD in Pharmacoepidemiology. Michael’s poems reside in Cordite Poetry Review, the Medical Journal of Australia, Medical Humanities, The Mathematical Intelligencer, Otoliths, GRAVITON, Meniscus, Plumwood Mountain, the Antarctic Poetry Exhibition and elsewhere. Three of his poems have been anthologised in Still You: Poems of Illness and Healing, One Surviving Poem: Forty-Two Poets Select the Poem they Most Want to Survive, and No News: 90 Poets Reflect on a Unique BBC Newscast. Michael’s debut poetry collection — a science-themed chapbook — is forthcoming from Melbourne Poets Union.

Rachel Rayner is a science communicator and a Senior Media Analyst with experimental PR and communications company, AndironGroup. She has shared a love of science and language with audiences all over the world, in particular Australia, Vietnam, USA and South Africa, through her roles with Questacon, the Ocean Exploration Trust and the Australian Volunteers Program, amongst others. Rachel holds a Bachelor in Liberal Studies (Physics and Art History & Theory) and a Graduate Diploma of Science Communication. She uses various forms of communication to reach audiences — whether live shows and broadcasts, blogs and articles, or educational activities. Rachel has been exploring poetry as a method of communication for the past few years, presenting on science poetry at the South African National Arts Festival and the Australian Science Communicators Conference, both in 2018. Recently, she has published her own and co-authored poems in online venues, including Visual Verse, FIVE:2:ONE and The Galway Review, as well as reciting her particle physics limericks in a STEMpunk podcast episode.

The Demographics and Characteristics of Contemporary Australian Science Poetry

In Australia, poetry related to scientific topics (‘science poetry’) is an emerging subgenre of writing. While poet Carol Jenkins has previously described the demographics of contemporary Australian poetry in the literature, no known quantitative research studies have focused on contemporary Australian science poetry. Therefore, our novel study aims to describe the demographics and characteristics of contemporary Australian science poetry. After independently reviewing twelve poetry or science writing anthologies to identify science poems, we jointly selected pieces for data collection. Categorical data on poem and poet characteristics were collected, with proportions in categories expressed as percentages and residential state/territory figures re-expressed per million population. The number of poets with science rather than non-science poems anthologised was statistically compared between genders using a chi-square test, with a p-value<0.05 denoting statistical significance. Across the anthologies, 100 science poems by 73 poets were identified. The most common poetry type and scientific discipline were free verse (93%) and biology (30%), respectively. Poets mostly used science to explore ideas of humanity and death. They were mainly female (55%) NSW residents (41%) with no formal science background (75%). The ACT had the most poets per million population (15). Women were significantly more likely to have science poems anthologised compared with non-science poems. Overall, our study of contemporary Australian science poetry provides a picture of an interdisciplinary genre and suggests avenues for future exploration.

Keywords: Australian poetry; science; creativity; interdisciplinary; demographics