On Wednesday 25th June, I compèred my first public event at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory: an evening of poems about the Sun and the Moon.
I'm writing a book and show called 'Sunspots', and when I learned that my friend and colleague Liane Strauss was working on a new pamphlet of poems about the Moon, I decided (moons ago) that these two heavenly bodies could make for a perfect night.
It took quite a while for me, Liane and Lucie Green to find an evening that suited us all and in the end the night we picked was smack bang in the middle of the National Astronomy Meeting at Portsmouth, which meant some of the MSSL staff were away. But some of them drove back especially for the event, which was very touching.
As well as staff and students from the lab, I'm also delighted that several local residents made the trip up the hill for our show (including a local book club, I believe). We were also joined by the mother of a good friend of mine who lives near Horsham, and by my 10-year-old goddaughter who came from Sunningdale with her dad and two brothers.
For me it was a beautiful blend of colleagues, friends, family, and new faces.
Liane and I drove from Tower Bridge to the lab and arrived in time for Lucie to give Liane a tour of the beautiful grounds, and to fill her in on some history and recent projects.
By 7 o'clock, around 30 of us had assembled around the wine and cheese table, and it was time to draw the common room curtains against the beautiful evening light, and begin.
After a typically warm introduction from Lucie, I introduced Liane and she guided us through seven or eight of the poems that will feature in 'All the Ways You Still Remind Me of the Moon' (Paekakariki Press, 2015).
As she read, she also drew neat parallels between what poets 'do' and what scientists 'do'. Things like: we're all trying to work things out; we're looking to answer a question; we're trying to define some phenomena; we're trying to understand the nature of something that intrigues or troubles us.
Here is Liane doing some of those things in one of the Moon poems she read for us:
Until that time, which you say will not come,
When one of us, or both, or none accepts
That we don’t feel the way, or depth, or sum
Of what we want to feel, with few regrets;
Until that time when I see you pretend,
Or feel myself at odds with my own will,
Pronouncing words that palliate or send
The truth under the tread of love’s true wheel;
Until that time I’ll toe the lover’s line
And we will live like islands on a fault
Where tremors sing until they are a sign
Of your reproach for my backstabbing thought:
For I’m the earth the tide the moon the sun
And you will be destroyed by what I’ve done.
After the interval, I was delighted that Tom Kitching of MSSL read from his clever and accomplished sequence of poems about the multiverse, which he's been working on since February. I think this was the first time Tom has read his poems in public and for me, as poet in residence, that was a proud moment. I was just as delighted that Jack Carlyle also stood up to read one of his excellent haiku.
I rounded off the evening with some poems from 'Sunspots', including this one, which I've since turned into a song for my show (video link below).
Photon, get a move on.
a million years or more
pushing through the crowds,
from the core;
not sure I can wait eight minutes more
for you to speed through space
and hit my eye.
Penetrate me, little one,
see right through me,
screen your favourite movies
in my skull,
light my way from east to west.
To finish on something a little different, I screened the film of 'Photon', which you can watch here and, after a little more milling and swilling, I think everybody left in a happy mood. I know Liane and I had a happy drive back to London. I look forward to more events as the year continues. Thanks to everybody who came.
*From 'The Song of Wandering Aengus' by William Butler Yeats