Poem that has removed more than two tonnes of pollution from Sheffield’s air to be auctioned

The world’s first catalytic poem is being sold at auction in Sheffield, to raise money for a UK charity that helps fight lung disease.

‘In Praise of Air’, by celebrated poet Simon Armitage, was printed upon state-of-the-art material developed by the University’s Department of Chemistry, which converts harmful nitrous oxides emitted from cars into harmless gases.

The 20 metre long poem was installed as a temporary structure on the University of Sheffield’s Alfred Denny building in 2014. It remained there overlooking Sheffield’s busy A57 for over two years, during which time it removed more than two tonnes of pollution from the city’s air.

The poem was said to be able to remove around 20 cars worth of pollutants each day, which works out at nearly 3,000 cars worth over a two year period.

Pieces of the poem packaged ready for auction (Photo: University of Sheffield)

The poem was taken down earlier this year, but 12 sections of it have now been turned into limited edition pieces of art, which will be signed by Simon Armitage, and sold at auction on Tuesday 9th May.

The auction will form part of the University’s Festival of Arts and Humanities which is taking place throughout May.

Simon Armitage is due to give a poetry reading at the free event, before the pieces of art go up for sale.

All profits raised will proceed to the British Lung Foundation, which aims to prevent and fund research into lung disease.

A study carried out by Public Health England shows that in Sheffield, 269 people died from air pollution-related illnesses in 2010 alone. This figure makes up around 18% of all deaths in Sheffield that year, of people aged 25 and above.

Sarah MacFadyen, Policy and Public Affair Manager for the British Lung Foundation, praised the poem. She said: “This project is exciting. It could provide cities with an innovative and beautiful way to help clean up their air, and raise awareness of an invisible danger among the public.

“Air pollution is a public health crisis and toxic air left unchecked will lead to a rising tide of ill health for everyone, particularly the most vulnerable. Children, people with a lung condition and the elderly are hit hardest.

“We are incredibly grateful that the funds will go towards helping us continue our work campaigning for policy change, researching new treatments and supporting people living with lung disease.”


Author of ‘In Praise of Air’, University of Sheffield’s Professor of Poetry Simon Armitage (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)


Professor Joanna Gavins from the University’s Faculty of English said: “The nitrogen oxides that In Praise of Air helped to remove from the atmosphere during its time on the wall of the Alfred Denny building are a major cause of lung diseases and we hope to have raised public awareness of their damaging impact through our cross-disciplinary collaboration.

“We’re delighted to be celebrating the end of our project by reusing the catalytic poem material and supporting the British Lung Foundation, who fund essential research on the prevention and treatment of lung diseases.

“Our final catalytic poetry event on Tuesday will ensure that our project has a lasting legacy, both through the creation of new artworks from the poem banner and through our donation to lung disease research.”

Please follow this link for further information about the event, and details on how to get tickets.