Griffin Poetry Prize winner loves science, literary arts

Liz Howard, Rotman Research Institute, Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize

Science and literature are not two solitudes for Liz Howard, an acclaimed poet and part-time research assistant in Dr. Cheryl Grady’s lab at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest. Howard took home one of the most prestigious poetry awards in Canada on June 2 when she received the 2016 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize at a glitzy ceremony in Toronto.

Howard’s debut book of poetry Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent is a reflection of life in northern Ontario, where she grew up. It’s infused with observations that juxtapose nature and urban life, science and shamanic practice.

“I’m trying to kind of create this charged synthetic field where all of those ideas can sort of coalesce and co-mingle and co-exist in a way that one doesn’t negate the other,” said Howard, who began work at Baycrest in April, and who previously worked in the lab of Dr. Lynn Hasher after taking her fourth-year seminar in aging memory and cognition.

Howard has a Master of Fine Arts and an Honours Bachelor of Science with High Distinction. Her poetry and vocabulary are informed by her work in cognitive neuroscience. One of her poems is entitled Neural Cascade: A Chandelier of Forest Bones.

At Baycrest, she is currently engaged in getting a new study off the ground that will include neuroimaging of subjects. She is fascinated by the question: What is the nature of consciousness?

“I’ve always wanted to have something to do with neuroimaging, to actually see inside the black box, as it were, and see this grand orchestra taking place of neural regions, the connections, in concert with one another, creating this dazzling, enchanted miracle of consciousness.”

Howard has only been at Baycrest for about eight weeks, and says that so far, she “loves it.”