Archive for December 28, 2009

A Compression of Distances

Posted in Biographical, Poetry, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on December 28, 2009 by telescoper

I’m back in Cardiff after a few days of yuletide indulgence in my home town of Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England. And very nice it was too, although my mass has increased as a consequence. We didn’t do much except eat and drink, although we did manage a scenic drive on Boxing Day through the beautiful Northumberland countryside, even more beautiful than usual because of the covering of snow that fell heavily before Christmas and never got round to melting.

Last year I did the round trip from Cardiff to Newcastle by train, which is quite a lengthy ordeal, but this year the powers that be have decided to close the main railway line from South Wales into England (via Bristol) because of engineering work. Route B, via Cheltenham and Birmingham, was also closed, so the only way to do the journey by train would have been via Manchester, a trip of around 8 hours each way. It wasn’t a very difficult decision therefore to abandon the railways this year and fly, which turned out to be remarkably painless. Although we landed in snow at Newcastle the planes both ways were on time and, with a flying time of less than an hour, I had much more time for sloth and gluttony.

Just before I left for my short break a book sent from Cinnamon Press popped through my letterbox. I occasionally post bits of poetry on here, and if there’s any doubt about copyright I always check with the publisher before putting them online. I had a nice exchange of emails with this particular publisher as a result of which they sent me a collection of poems they thought I might like to feature. This one is called A Compression of Distances and it’s by a poet quite new to me, Daphne Gloag.

Poetry books are ideal for reading on short trips on train or plane. They’re usually slim so they are easy to carry and you can read them one poem at a time in between pesky interruptions, such as take-off and landing. I didn’t have time to read this one before leaving so I put it in my pocket and took it with me. Given the changed mode of travel this year, the title seemed quite appropriate for this journey!

Anyway, it’s a very interesting collection altogether but there are a few poems at the end, taken from a  much longer collection called Beginnings, which seem to me to be the most appropriate to put on here. I agree wholeheartedly with the comments  on the jacket by John Latham

Her poems are remarkable, especially in the way she has successfully taken complex concepts in modern science – particularly cosmology – and integrated them successfully and seamlessly into poems which speak of the human condition in an effective and moving manner.

I have to say that it is a difficult task to combine modern physics with poetry. Often, attempts to do this either completely trivialise the scientific content or become tiresomely didactic. I think these poems get it just right. What Daphne Gloag does is to juxtapose  ideas from comtemporary cosmology (inflation, dark matter, etc) with diverse aspects of human experience. The parallels are often very moving as well as ingeneous. The poems are also preceded by brief explanations of the physics. Here is one of the best examples.

The children’s charity concert:
matter and antimatter

Particles and antiparticles are interchangeable, but just after the big bang the process whereby they kept annihilating each other ended by producing very slightly more matter than antimatter, making the universe possible.

Arriving at the church for the children’s charity concert
we remembered the words of Richard Feynman:
Created and annihilated,
created and annihilated –
what a waste of time.

He was speaking of those particles and antiparticles
at the beginning of time
annihilated in explosions of light.

In the church the children were playing
for the refugees of Kosovo;
our granddaughter’s long hair shone
like the sheen of her violin.
She did not know
she was a child of that hair’s breadth victory
of particles over antiparticles
in the early universe: annihilation
for all but a few, a final imbalance
just enough for making galaxies and worlds
and at that end of time
those children and the making of their years.

They played Bach and Twinkle twinkle little star,
not knowing what a star is
or the violence of stars,
not knowing they were perfected children
of the violent universe,
not knowing the years piled up on the scrap heaps
of that country they’d raised money for…
the man with his ear sawn off slowly
and fed to a dog like offal, the girl
with her legs torn off, her family machine gunned,
blown into darkness.

So many annihilations of perfected years.
But also those children in their panache of light.

You can order a copy of A Compression of Distances by Daphne Gloag directly from the publisher.