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Cecilia Wong reveals how social science and poetry go hand-in-hand and how her collaboration with Caron Freeborn feeds nicely into the Connections project.

I was amazed when receiving an invitation from Lucy Cavendish College to participate in the ‘Science, Poetry and the Brain Event’, as I’m not a scientist and I don’t know much about poetry. My initial doubt just melted away as soon as the College confirmed their welcome to a social scientist too. Being an academic and a professional town planner, my research has a strong applied angle and often dealt with controversial planning policies such as housing numbers, spatial inequalities in infrastructure development, government funding allocation and policy monitoring. These tend to involve numbers and maps rather than literary poems. The poems that I know best are mainly ancient Chinese varieties from the Tang and Song dynasties. Of course, Cambridge (King’s College) is famously linked to China’s foremost modern poet, Hamilton Hsu, who wrote the beloved poem ‘Second Farewell to Cambridge’ in 1928.

Without knowing what to expect, I was walking from the train station to Lucy Cavendish College on a rainy Saturday afternoon to meet my poet. I was warmly greeted by Jane and her team, but still slightly anxious to find out what would happen next. After a brief introduction to the event, the exciting moment came when the paring was announced. Wow! I met Caron Freeborn – who is not only intelligent but edgy too! We had a lovely introduction with me using my iPad to show some maps on spatial inequalities in industrial and infrastructure development in the UK. Caron expressed slight surprise that town planning touched upon politics and policies. Her introduction was more straightforward than mine, as I have read her wonderful book ‘Georges Perec is my hero’. The conversation kept going and we hit it off right away. My recent writing on the gentrification impact of the redevelopment in Salford Quays mirrored in some ways her exciting photo-poem project about Basildon called ‘Growing up in New Town’. We both recognised very quickly that some interesting collaboration could be sparked from this unconventional partnership. So, I eagerly look forward to the birth of the poem and meeting Caron again soon.

At an event on 26 October this year, eight Poet-Scientist pairs will deliver a poem they’ve created, based on their own scientific research and crafted with a poet’s creative skill. 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:

Professor Cecilia Wong

Cecilia is a Professor of Spatial Planning at Manchester University. She is Principal Investigator of the project Eco-Urbanisation: Promoting Sustainable Development in Metropolitan Regions of China. Her research has spanned housing, urban regeneration and regional development, with professional experience in both the UK and China.

Dr Caron Freeborn – Lucy alumna

Caron Freeborn is a novelist, poet and occasional journalist. She’s published three novels, to great acclaim. One of her children has Autism Spectrum Disorder, and she raises awareness of ASD, eg. by incorporating theory of mind into her fiction and teaching. Caron taught English at Cambridge University, and more recently taught creative writing for the Open University. She’s involved in the Women’s Word Festival, and is a Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund.