September is one of my favourite months. Perhaps with an echo of distant schooldays, it feels like the beginning of something. On the Northumberland and Durham coast, swallows, house martins and large flocks of finches are on the move, preparing to migrate. The garden is overgrown, sweet and abundant.
I have a new book to celebrate: Edge This one is quite different from my previous two collections from Bloodaxe. It’s not about landscape or the culture or history of North East England but about science — how astonishing it is, and how miraculous it is to be human.
‘Who’s it for’? my father asked of my last collection. The answer, for this one, as I hope for all my poetry, is that it’s for everyone.
Edge contains three poem sequences, Field, Sun and the title sequence, and they all deal, at different scales, with cosmology and astrophysics. All three pieces began as collaborations, commissioned for performance in Life Science Centre Planetarium, Newcastle between 2013 and 2016, with computer music by Peter Zinovieff. They take the reader from the micro quantum worlds underlying the whole universe, to the macro workings of our local star, the potential for primitive life elsewhere in the solar system on moons such as Enceladus, and finally to the development of complex consciousness on our own planet. As scientific inquiry reveals the beauty and poetry of the universe, Edge celebrates the astonishing local circumstances which enable us to begin to understand it.
How does Edge relate to my earlier work? I don’t think of it as being substantially different, although I expect others might disagree. I write about nature, place and time – often beyond the human scale. This work is an attempt to place our small planet, teeming with life, in the context of the physical processes of the universe as we understand them. I began knowing very little about science, and still know far, far less than I should. But I learnt through writing these poems, and from working with research scientists to try to ‘translate’ their findings to a wider audience. This has been a transformative experience, and I would love to take readers on a similar journey.
Please come and celebrate with me at one of these events:
On another transformative theme, I’m also taking part in an event with award-winning poet Phoebe Power at Durham Book Festival on Saturday October 12th. This is part of a commission from Durham Book Festival and the National Trust to celebrate ‘The People’s Landscape’ of the Durham coast from Seaham to Crimdon. This was the coast I wrote about 20 years ago in Turning the Tide (published in Two Countries), a sequence about the massive millennium project to clean up millions of tons of colliery waste from the beaches. How have the landscape and people of Easington and Horden fared since? Whether you live there, like to walk there, or just love poetry, please join us for some new writing and lively discussion!
‘The People’s Landscape’. Eden Dene mouth, Horden beach. Photo by Katrina Porteous 2019