Category Archives: Poetry/Science

Two creative-critical essays

Both of these are in The Restless Compendium (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) and can be freely downloaded.

So Even the Tree has its Yolk


This creative-critical work draws on the archives of the Pioneer Health Centre, also known as the Peckham Experiment, held at the Wellcome Library. The Centre was established between the wars both to provide the conditions for, and to investigate, health rather than illness. The ways in which personal and group forms of vitality were conceptualized, valorized and put to work allowed poet and writer James Wilkes to think through the link between individual and societal relationships to leisure, work and health. However, the archive also holds many other strands of thinking – esoteric, biological, quasi-anarchist – and the choice of fiction as a form of writing provides a way of holding these dispersive, messy ingredients together – a way of working restlessly with restless materials.

Published open access (free download): click here

The Poetics of Descriptive Experience Sampling


James Wilkes and Holly Pester, both poets, write here about their engagement with the descriptive experience sampling (DES) method, which stemmed from an interdisciplinary encounter with the psychologist Russell Hurlburt, and their experience of being trained as subjects in this technique. This chapter considers how DES can be used in unexpected ways to think through vexed questions in poetics about the relationship between experience and language, and the material ways in which experience might be captured. James and Holly consider the deployment of DES in the context of a poetry reading, which emerges as a space of multiple, distributed and distractable attention.

Published open access (free download): click here.

The Restless Compendium


This interdisciplinary book contains 22 essays and interventions on rest and restlessness, silence and noise, relaxation and work. It draws together approaches from artists, literary scholars, psychologists, activists, historians, geographers and sociologists who challenge assumptions about how rest operates across mind, bodies, and practices. Rest’s presence or absence affects everyone. Nevertheless, defining rest is problematic: both its meaning and what it feels like are affected by many socio-political, economic and cultural factors. The authors open up unexplored corners and experimental pathways into this complex topic, with contributions ranging from investigations of daydreaming and mindwandering, through histories of therapeutic relaxation and laziness, and creative-critical pieces on lullabies and the Sabbath, to experimental methods to measure aircraft noise and track somatic vigilance in urban space. The essays are grouped by scale of enquiry, into mind, body and practice, allowing readers to draw new connections across apparently distinct phenomena.

Published open access (free to download): click here.

Poetry and Neuroscience: An Interdisciplinary Conversation

An article co-authored by me and neuroscientist Sophie Scott.


Dialogues and collaborations between scientists and non-scientists are now widely understood as important elements of scientific research and public engagement with science. In recognition of this, the authors, a neuroscientist and a poet, use a dialogical approach to extend questions and ideas first shared during a lab-based poetry residency. They recorded a conversation and then expanded it into an essayistic form, allowing divergent disciplinary understandings and uses of experiment, noise, voice and emotion to be articulated, shared and questioned.

This is published open access and can be freely downloaded: click here for pdf

‘And I remember a feeling of tightness on the skin…’

James Wilkes, And I remember a feeling of tightness on the skin…, 2016. Performed by Emma Bennett, Ella Finer and James Wilkes. Image Charlotte SowerbyImage: Charlotte Sowerby

A work for three voices, based on transcripts of interviews about three people’s experiences of a poetry reading. The transcripts have been organised into a score that explores the ways in which speech elaborates moments of experience, bringing them into being through the work of the voice and through a kind of digestion, of chewing over, which is shared, public and provisional.

Commissioned for the Voicings live performance series at the exhibition ‘This is a Voice’, Wellcome Collection, 7-12 June 2016.

Thanks to Emma Bennett and Ella Finer for their collaboration in developing the work for performance. Thanks also to Russell Hurlburt, whose Descriptive Experience Sampling technique provided the framework for gathering the descriptions and who conducted the sampling and the interviews.

Hubbub at Wellcome Collection

I’m Associate Director of Hubbub, an international team of scientists, humanists, artists, clinicians, public health experts, broadcasters and public engagement professionals. We explore the dynamics of rest, noise, tumult, activity and work, as they operate in mental health, neuroscience, the arts and the everyday. We are based in London as the first residents of The Hub at Wellcome Collection from October 2014 to July 2016.

For more on what we’re doing during our two years at The Hub, have a look at our website, our twitter feed or our facebook page.

Poetry and Science – Archive of the Now

Discussion and performances by Dorothy Lehane, Eleanor Perry, Prof. Ellen Solomon and me, hosted by Sophie Mayer of Archive of the Now, on the topic of poetry and science.

A live radio show for the Science Museum’s Exponential Horn installation, broadcast by Resonance 104.4fm on 13th June 2014.

There’s a recording of this knocking around somewhere, and I’ll embed it if I can find it…

The Voice at the Wellcome Collection

I curated this special late-night event for the Wellcome Collection in March 2013, bringing together scientists, artists and designers, opera singers, a yodeller and a talking parrot in an evening exploring the unexpected qualities of the voice.

Co-curated with Alice Carey and Sally Davies.

Professor Sophie Scott (neuroscientist)
Professor Roger Moore (speech scientist)
Sarah Angliss (composer & robotocist)
Mikhail Karikis (artist and composer)
Cecilia Carey (designer)
Barrett Watson (parrot breeder)
Dr Sam Evans (neuroscientist)
Peter Slater (sports commentator)
Doreen Kutzke (yodeller)
Lynn Cox (artist, trainer and Vice Chair of the Audio Description Association)
Stevie Rickard (voice and accent coach)
Townley and Bradby (artists)
Incidental (art and design collective)
Jonathan P. Watts (writer and critic)
Daniel Rudge, Adam Crockatt and Maroin Wyllie (singers)
Professor Mark Huckvale (speech scientist)
Dr David Reby (biologist)
The Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience’s Speech Communication Lab (neuroscientists)
In the Dark (radio collective)
Holly Pester and Daniel Rourke (poets/writers)
Wellcome Trust Staff Choir

C0086859 The Voice, Friday late event Credit: Wellcome Library, London.   C0086862 The Voice, Friday late event Credit: Wellcome Library, London.   C0086893 The Voice, Friday late event Credit: Wellcome Library, London.   C0086909 The Voice, Friday late event Credit: Wellcome Library, London.   C0086932 The Voice, Friday late event Credit: Wellcome Library, London.   C0086937 The Voice, Friday late event Credit: Wellcome Library, London.   C0086947 The Voice, Friday late event Credit: Wellcome Library, London.   C0086958 The Voice, Friday late event Credit: Wellcome Library, London.   C0086876 The Voice, Friday late event Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Images: Wellcome Library, London.