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Sciku: the wonder of science in haiku - Students of Camden School for Girls ****

I was a little uncertain about what this book would be like. Probably the closest thing I'd come across before was Marcus Chown and Govert Schilling's Tweeting the Universe, which came across as one of those projects that works better as an idea than it does in practice. But, in fact, this collection of haiku on science subjects by the students of Camden School for Girls proved surprisingly enjoyable and thought provoking.

There were distinct differences between different subjects - and there was a huge range of styles and content. Being low on appreciation of high culture I particularly enjoyed the humorous haiku, but it was interesting that the physics and cosmology topics seemed to work better than the biology. This may be a poetic reflection of Rutherford's old taunt to biologists that 'all science is either physics or stamp collecting' - all too often the biology topics were primarily establishing labels, where in the physics poems the sharp limits of the form seemed to fit well with the stark beauty of the topic. Take this one, for instance, titled Particles:


We huddle in bricks
We dance around in water
We fly in the sky

If I want to be picky, there was a spot of cheating and poems that didn't quite ring true. A good few times the poem consisted of not one but multiple haiku, which strikes me as more like a conventional poem with a set of verses than the true form. And when presented with a line like 'A lump of quarks and protons' I couldn't help think 'but protons are quarks', by which point the magic was lost. (And it's kryptonite that kills Superman, not krypton which was the name of his home planet - to be fair, the editor acknowledges this.)

One problem here is that I am not a great poetry reader - so it may be that my assessment of the quality of the work was a bit like asking someone who eats at a fast food joint every night what they think of a new Michelin starred restaurant. But I thought the quality of the writing, given the age of the contributors, was surprisingly good. You can tell from the desperation of my complaint about krypton that there's not much wrong with this lovely little collection, which would make a great gift or dip in book.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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