Writing is on the wall for air pollution thanks to air-cleansing poem

Simon Armitage poem 'In Praise of Air' on a University of Sheffield buildingThe University of Sheffield has unveiled the world’s first air-cleansing poem, a new work by award-winning writer Simon Armitage.

Simon Armitage, Professor of Poetry at the University, and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Science, Professor Tony Ryan, have collaborated to create a catalytic poem called In Praise of Air - printed on material containing a formula invented at the University which is capable of purifying its surroundings. This cheap technology could also be applied to billboards and advertisements alongside congested roads to cut pollution.

Professor Ryan, who came up with the idea of using treated materials to cleanse the air, said: “This is a fun collaboration between science and the arts to highlight a very serious issue of poor air quality in our towns and cities.  This poem alone will eradicate the nitrogen oxide pollution created by about 20 cars every day.”

The 10m x 20m piece of material which the poem is printed on is coated with microscopic pollution-eating particles of titanium dioxide which use sunlight and oxygen to react with nitrogen oxide pollutants and purify the air.

The poem, called ‘In Praise of Air’, will be on display on the side of the University's Alfred Denny Building, Western Bank, for one year and its unveiling also marked the launch of this year’s Sheffield Lyric Festival which featured internationally renowned writers such as Sinead Morrissey and Benjamin Zephaniah.

Simon added: “I've enjoyed working with the scientists and the science, trying to weave the message into the words.”  He added “Poetry often comes out with the intimate and the personal, so it's strange to think of a piece in such an exposed place, written so large and so bold. I hope the spelling is right!”

Read more about the project, including a link to the poem itself, by visiting Catalytic Poetry

Read more about the Sheffield Lyric Festival

In Praise of Air

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.

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…

Among the jumbled bric-a-brac I keep
a padlocked treasure-chest of empty space,
and on days when thoughts are fuddled with smog
or civilization crosses the street

with a white handkerchief over its mouth
and cars blow kisses to our lips from theirs
I turn the key, throw back the lid, breathe deep.
My first word, everyone’s first word, was air.

by Simon Armitage