Obsessions and Skies


This is a view of the setting sun tinting the sky behind the trees on Greenwich Park at around about 4.30 pm last Friday. Specifics of time and place are important to me. I captured much the same in January  last year, and the summer months, and the year before. I have images in my phone which I swear one day I’ll use and find hard to delete.

Same as all the Aldeburgh dawns and sunsets. When I first started going to Aldeburgh festival in 2005 and for a few years after that I would be up for that bewitching teasing sun, not there then so there, spilling coldly but brightly over a dark amber sea. Sometimes my iPhone captured it so that the sun was a black disc in a meltdown seascape. A trick of the lens, or the light, the body position or all of those. Like a negative film strip-it seems odd to remember those, and, in fact, some of the poems they inspired written by other poets, none of which I have to hand at the moment.

The point about Greenwich though, and why I keep returning, is, of course, the place itself, where time began, Greenwich Mean Time  anyway, its history of sea, sky, stars and the museums which contain all pertaining.  Busy as it is, it’s various vistas denote space rather than suffocation. Climb up the hill towards the Royal Observatory, and there’s the City before you, clear in sunshine, or half-hidden in mist, but you are at a remove from it and can revile or romanticise to your heart’s content.


I do all of this each time I visit. I am a member of all the museums so can wander in and out at leisure but on Friday I just took photos on the park, like that sunset, and this early moon through the trees.

What led me to Greenwich, and indeed was the impetus behind my PhD, was a hologram, of this chronometer, H4, as it is known, famously designed by John Harrison to solve the problem of finding latitude. It’s an intricate object. I have seen the hologram . It isn’t on display to the public.

greenwich march 2013 and others 073

My colleague, at DMU, Professor of Holography and 3D Imaging, Martin Richardson made it. Maybe I can tell more of that story in other posts.

Knowing of my interest, met me there and we gained access to the inner sanctum where it rests in green, under glass,  looks as if it is underwater. Every tiny detail, every reflection has been captured: its filigreed engravings, its jewelled workings. . And so my obsession was borne, and the impulse for poetry, for research.

But the point here is, I suppose, about obsession, the revisits to places, the half-knowing what we want to find but the not-knowing also. This time I bought two old ordnance survey maps of the area. And, like I said, i took a lot more photos. Even if I don’t use any of those something has accrued from all of these visits. i have some poems, a lot of scribbled notes, photos, the knowledge of how my mind and body feel at the intersections of sky, sea and land. The feeling of being pulled , even if everything feels fragmented, incoherent.

And that’s what poems do -they pull us towards them, even when they don’t have words yet, even if they are just a few words, and some of them scribbled out. Harrison’s sea-clock prevented ships crashing into rocks. Measuring where land was by the stars had proved too unreliable. Its hologram will endure when that silver casing tarnishes. Our poems – via whatever camera and laser (the photos of skies, a moon between branches, the workshop, redrafting) become the holograms of what we’ve dreamed, imagined, thought about deeply, then crafted.  The poem before it’s a poem, then the poem that is, and the one that looks just like it but has been transformed into something else altogether. And only other people might recognise that. And that’s fine, you  are now comfortable with handling something that seemed solid but now if you try to hold it, your fingers grasp air.

Rebecca Elson puts it another way here.

We Astronomers

We astronomers are nomads,
Merchants, circus people.
All the earth is our tent.

We are industrious.
We breed enthusiasms,
Honour our responsibility to awe.

But the universe has moved a long way off.
Sometimes, I confess,
Starlight seems too sharp,

And like the moon
I bend my face to the ground,
To the small patch to where each foot falls,

Before it falls,
And I forget to ask questions,
And only count things.
The first stanza of this great poem in ‘A Responsibility To Awe’ (Carcanet).

Goodnight and I hope this poems are beginning.
I have posted the rest of the poem before work. It seems a good thing to do.

‘And like the moon
I bend my face to the ground,
To the small patch to where each foot falls,

Before it falls,’

I think this is what I meant elsewhere in this post, without sounding like Thought for the Day, be attentive to what’s not yet happening before it happens as it is an important part of what will eventually happen.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. john foggin says:

    I just want to say thank you for that ‘place where time began’
    Maps and globes and clocks and stars. Those too.

  2. Thank you for commenting on them, John!

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