Simon Armitage's latest poem, "A bullet / with cancer is a name / sliced it bravely", the poet laureate from the stage has yet to print or read aloud. Instead, the work was engraved by micro-artist Graham Short on a 2 cm x 1 cm chemotherapy tablet, in what Short said was probably the hardest job he ever did.
Entitled "Doing It," the poem – Armitage is the second poet laureate – was commissioned by the Cancer Research Institute in London. It is intended to symbolize a new generation of cancer treatment that the Institute will plan for the Cancer Drug Discovery Center, and which it hopes will turn cancer into a manageable disease.
"I can't configure / pill / engrave with my finger," Armitage writes. Instead, the poet created "a sugar pill / poem, one sentence / that speaks badly // about the disease itself."
Up to 51 words long, the poem was given to Short to enroll in a replicated chemotherapy tablet, intended to represent the drugs the Institute hopes to develop at the new center.
"The pills were falling apart and it was so hard to do," said Short, who swims 10,000 feet daily to reduce her pulse at rest and works from midnight to 5 a.m. to avoid vibrations from passing traffic.
"I work in an unusual way, carrying a stethoscope and taking pills to reduce my heart rate to 20-25 rpm. What I try to do then, using very fine needles, is to cut between the heartbeats. "
Shortt's tablet will be displayed at the Cancer Drug Discovery Center when it opens in 2020. It is currently under construction – and is still requiring an additional £ 14 million in donations to complete – the center is intended to bring together hundreds of scientists to collaborate on a program that will exceed its capacity cancer to develop drug resistance.
Armitage said: “Science and poetry are more collaborative than many would imagine, and it was exciting to work on a project that addresses cutting edge medical research. And like science, poetry is a “what if” activity, imagining outcomes and opportunities based on creative thinking.
"I liked the feeling that a song and a pill could cooperate in the production of both a medical and an emotional remedy, and that something so minimalist could aim to bring down something so huge and destructive. I’ve experimented with language for a long time – the shortest songs are always the hardest to write, and their smallness makes them so much more visible and vulnerable. "
Dr Olivia Rossanese, who will be head of biology at the new center, said Armitage's poem "beautifully shares our story and symbolizes hope for what's to come, the message becomes stronger if it is engraved on a pill that represents the types of treatments we will be developing in the near future. . "
The center, she added, "will offer a whole new and remarkable way of working," with computational biologists, geneticists, evolutionary scientists and drug discovery researchers "who will do everything hand-in-hand in an unprecedented way."