Most environmental poems suck. “In Praise of Air” is no exception — it sucks nitrogen oxide!

The poem is on display at the U.K.’s University of Sheffield (it was written by Simon Armitage, one of the school’s poetry professors). Researchers at the university devised an air-cleaning formula used in the material the poem’s printed on, which will eliminate the equivalent of 20 cars’ NOx pollution every day. (Nitrogen oxide speeds global warming and acid rain.)

Here’s how it works:

The 10m x 20m (33×66 feet) piece of material 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.

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(For nerds, here’s more info. Essentially, natural or artificial light activates the material, and its electrons change NOx into a harmless soluble nitrate that can be washed away.)

The poem is posted on the side of the university’s animal and plant sciences building, where it’ll stay for a year. Here it is — you be the judge of its suckitude:

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.

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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.

Although Sheffield in particular has poor air quality, the university is hoping its technology can be used in roadside billboards elsewhere, too. Why not try The Lorax?

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