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Annabel and Clémence are delighted to share their unique insights into their poem’s creative development, a microcosm of their collaboration.

Introduced by the wonderful Lucy Cavendish College, our initial meeting took place south of Cambridge, at King’s College London, where Clémence explores the mechanisms of brain development. Armed with her debatable drawing skills, Clémence shared her fascination for the wiring of neurons during postnatal development of the brain. Different types of neurons use different codes and signals to connect to each other, and researchers like Clémence are trying to decipher these complex codes that instruct brain connectivity.

This first encounter ended with a quick visit of the lab – why, yes, it does look pretty much like those biology practicals in high school. And we both went home, totally excited and slightly bemused, Annabel wondering, wait, what’s a synapse again? and Clémence thinking, I had no idea one could write poetry about the Cornish mining industry… We exchanged some emails, swapped reading materials, then decided that our second meeting should feel more unstructured, to allow a mode of comfortable familiarisation to emerge.

That’s why, on a glorious August day, we took coloured cards, felt tips, scissors and glue to Primrose Hill, where we spread a blanket beneath a tree and discussed topics as poetic translation, Artificial Intelligence and the delightful mysteries of the octopus, looping back each time to the intricacies of Clémence ’s research.


And something wonderful began to happen.

Because each time Annabel needed clarification, we reached for analogy. We drew characters, gave them names, then watched them perform actions – a wedding halted, a text-message received (or not) – that gestured towards the complexities of neural connectivity. We questioned these character’s motives, worried about their health, and wondered how their jobs could be taken over by others, should they fail in their tasks for any reason. Consequently, these analogies have become the structuring principles of the work; and it is somehow perfect (dare we say poetic) that analogy, arguably the core of cognition, presents that very process in our poem.

We hope you enjoyed this glimpse into our collaborative work. To hear the finished poem and learn more about the research that inspired and guided its direction, please join us and the other presenters on October 26th at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge.

The Connections event, held at Lucy Cavendish College, is open to the public and will attract a diverse variety of people including scientists, creatives, college members, students and local school children.

About the authors:

Dr Clémence Bernard 

Clémence is a researcher at the Centre for Developmental Neurobiology (Institute for Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London). Her research focuses on the molecular mechanisms for the wiring of neurons during brain development and their miswiring in neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy.

Dr Annabel Banks

Annabel read English at Lucy 2007-2010, when she won both the Ryan Kinsella Poetry Prize and the RSC “Other” Prize. She completed her landscape/archive practice-based poetry PhD in 2016, and her debut poetry collection, DTR, was published earlier this year. Annabel’s collection of short stories, Exercises in Control, will be out in February 2020 with Influx Press. You can find her on Twitter @annabelwrites.