Simon Armitage is a British poet, playwright and novelist. He received numerous awards for his works among which we count the Sunday Times Author of the Year, the Forward Prize, the Lannan Award, and an Ivor Novello Award for his song lyrics. Now, his poems have found yet another purpose. Instead of simply enriching minds, they now purify the air as well.
The air cleaning poster has been created in collaboration by a team from the University of Sheffield and the poet. Simon Armitage’s poem, “In Praise of Air”, has been printed on a 10m by 20m piece of material. That material has been coated with pollution-eating particles of titanium dioxide that can be seen only with a microscope. These particles use oxygen and sunlight to react with the nitrogen oxide pollutants. Afterwards they simply purify the air. The University of Sheffield claims that the material their team used is able to absorb the pollution of 20 cars every day.
Simon Armitage’s poem has been attached to a building of the University. It will remain there for a year. “I write in praise of air. I was six or five / When a conjurer opened my knotted fist / and I held in my palm the whole of the sky. / I’ve carried it with me ever since,” the poet writes. “Let air be a major god, its being / and touch, its breast-milk always tilted / to the lips. Both dragonfly and Boeing / dangle in its see-through nothingness.”
The last words of the poem, are perhaps, the most expressive for the project: “My first word, everyone’s first word, was air.” Simon Armitage mentioned he had enjoyed working with the scientists and trying to put their message into words.
Professor Tony Ryan, the pro-vice-chancellor for science at Sheffield University, talked about the project, calling it “a fun collaboration between science and the arts to highlight a very serious issue of poor air quality in our towns and cities”. What do you think of this innovative concept? Would you stop next to the building and read Simon Armitage’s poem?