The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, in collaboration with Apples and Snakes, is delighted to share a new poem by Kayo Chingonyi that explores ideas about naturalness in science. The poem is the first in a series that Kayo has been commissioned to write as part of a Nuffield Council project looking at how the concepts of ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ affect debates about science, technology and medicine.

Watch a film of Kayo performing his poem The Realms of Possibility below, or read the poem in full here.

Discussing the poem, Kayo said: "I've always been fascinated by the idea of someone acting as executor of a will or being left something in a will. When it came to this commission it happened that I had a sketch of a character in mind set in the world of scientific research. After I had written the first part the second and third followed quickly. I wanted this poem to introduce the main theme I'll be exploring in more detail in subsequent poems for this project: the idea that acts of poetic and scientific inquiry are as much about framing a question as coming to a conclusion."

The commission is part of a collaboration between the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an independent UK organisation examining the ethical issues in biology and medicine, and Apples and Snakes, England’s leading organisation for performance poetry. The collaboration also involves a poetry competition.

When people describe something as natural or unnatural, often they are making claims about it being good or bad, or right or wrong. But what do people mean when they say genetic modification or cloning is wrong because it’s unnatural, or that natural food and medicine is better for you? The Council is working with poets to explore ideas about naturalness in creative ways.

“We use the terms natural and unnatural in a messy way. We say things that may not appear coherent at the surface, but they express something important that we need to keep hold of. We need to unpack the language we use, otherwise we get into complications”, Dr Tom Shakespeare, member of the steering group for the Council’s project said. “We are talking about language, about the use of words, so for us it was obvious - we should turn to the experts: poets. Shelley once said that poets were the unacknowledged legislators of the world. I think poets may be the unacknowledged bioethicists of the world, and they will certainly make us pay attention to language.”

Listen to members of the steering group Tom Shakespeare, Roland Jackson and Mona Siddiqui discuss ideas about naturalness.

Kayo will be producing a further set of pieces this autumn. His poetry and the winning entries from the competition will be performed at an event at the RichMix in London on Monday 30 November.