Communicating and Connecting to Our Science via Poetry

Back in 2022, I had the pleasure of attending a few poetry workshops at the British Antarctic Survey. These were hosted by the then poet-in-residence, Elizabeth Lewis-Williams. I soon learned that poetry was not only a great way to tell stories, communicate scientific research and inspire others. Poems can also help us to re-connect to our own research and the wonders of the ocean, something that is not always easy to do when the challenges it faces (and academic pressures we face) so often dominate our conversations. 

With Elizabeth’s encouragement, I wrote a poem, A Tale of Light and Fear, which tries to capture some of that wonder. It is set in the Southern Ocean and tells the story of vertical migration and the drivers of this behaviour: Light (creating food-rich, sun-lit surface waters and a darker, deeper twilight zone) and Fear (of being seen by a predator). The daily rhythm of the sunrise and sunset is mirrored by the rise and fall of the migrators, yet in the polar regions there is an additional complexity: extreme seasonality. When the sun departs, many polar species of zooplankton spend the entire winter at depth, surviving off of energy stores they have accumulated in the summer.  

Whether happening on a daily or seasonal scale, these movements by individual animals culminate in the transport of carbon to depths where it will remain locked up for centuries. Gaining a better understanding of this seasonal migration is one of BIOPOLE’s key objectives: can we better quantify this behaviour in the Southern Ocean? And what impact does it have on the global ocean carbon cycle? 

The poem is now published in the latest edition of Antarktikos, an annual art-science publication founded by the artist and explorer Esther Kokmeijer and is focused on Antarctica. This second issue has the theme of “Light and Shadow” and is divided into three parts “Into the Cosmos”, “On the Continent” and “Into the Depths”.  Continuing this collaboration with Elizabeth, and joining forces with JETZON, we are running a series of poetry workshops in early 2024. Developed for ECRs, we hope that these will be fun, friendly and inclusive spaces for more researchers to explore how poetry can be used both to reconnect with and to communicate science. 

The author of the article – Jennifer Freer (British Antarctic Survey)

A Tale of Light and Fear

Jennifer Freer

By September the Sun is rising.

As if returning from a long meditation

in Hawaii

or Greece.

Her gift is warm light

which thaws the old routine

to say the least.

Freed from an icy cell

the phyto-plankton

or floating fixers

fix new energy

inside their own glass shell.

Dawn is light and growth and death

sun up — inhale —

one more breath.

Dusk is darkness and safe respite

sun down — exhale —

out of sight.

Her rhythm echoes

hundreds of metres below

in bands of dwindling light

called isolumes.

These fall as She rises

and rise as She falls

minute by minute

shifting the limits

of light and fear.

A lightscape of fear

for the zoo-plankton

or floating wee beasties.

They fear eyes with teeth

lying in wait

for that one ill-timed move


To the vital bloom.

To the deadly bait.

Dawn is light and growth and death

swim down — exhale —

one more breath.

Dusk is darkness and safe respite

Swim up — inhale —

out of sight.

Their ascent begins as the light goes out.

A migration of millions of millions.

Jellies drift

pteropods fly

copepods hop and worms writhe.

Fish and krill of all stages and size


To feast and be feasted upon.

To live and to die!

To scatter Sun’s energy

far and wide.

The dead pass it on

the rest respire it below

a living-breathing-carbon-flow.

From sunbeam to seabed

via millions of millions of

invisible breaths.

Dawn is light and growth and death

sun up — swim down —

one more breath.

Dusk is darkness and safe respite

Swim up — sun down —

out of sight.

By March the Sun is leaving.

As if on her own migration

or pilgrimage North

to Alaska.

Her gift is cold silence

which they’ll thank her for


For it’s in the dim of winter

when there’s no way up

only through

that they realise just what they’re made of

what riches

they never knew.