I’m delighted that the home of the RSS Discovery in Dundee has been able to arrange to borrow some of the materials from the 2019 Antarctic poetry competition, based in New Zealand. “The world’s first and only poetry exhibition in the Antarctic” aims to raise awareness of the role of Antarctica in our understanding of the climate crisis.
Discovery Point were very helpful with giving me access to the ship and to the collection in order to take photographs to accompany my submission for this unusual competition. You can see eight of the poems and images from the competition, including my own shortlisted poem in the reception area – which is still accessible if you are only popping in for a poem and a coffee! The poems will be on display from now until sometime around March 2020.
More about the competition
More about my poem and images (with a reading)
More about Discovery Point
The Antarctic Poetry Competition is unusual in asking entrants to submit both poems and photographs, and specifying that the photographs must include the poems entered! I’m excited that that one of my entries for this year’s competition was shortlisted and will be on display, along with work by all the other shortlisted entrants, at Dunedin Public Library in New Zealand from 8th-31st October.
As well as my shortlisted poem, Polar Exploration, I’ve included a selection of photographs below. These were taken on the polar research vessel RSS Discovery, a research vessel launched in 1901 during the ‘heroic’ age of polar exploration. Discovery is a connection to Antarctica which is now permanently docked where it was built, in the city of Dundee, near to where I live. Gill Poulter and Suzanne Paterson at Discovery Point kindly arranged for me to have access to Captain Scott’s cabin, the chart room and other locations aboard, and also to access some of the unique objects from the Discovery collection. I’m very grateful for their help.
Reading about the experiences of polar travellers, it seemed to me that people journeying in these regions are as much exploring something within themselves as experiencing an unknown place, or a physical challenge. In the poem I tried to riddle basic challenges which Antarctica presents to human beings alongside questions about this kind of inner journey.
Who are you in a place with no name?
Stranger here or home at last?
Are you an Adam now, or a wiser Eve?
What are you in a place with no life?
Curiosity of transient biology?
Are you an alien, or a fresh infection?
Where are you in a pyramid with no stones?
Smiles alive under Scott tent shroud?
Are you a moth unformed, in swaddle-down cocoon?
When are you in a land with no night?
Pacing on and on or clock unwound?
Are you awake still, or persistent dream?
THE GREAT NEBULA OF ORION: A digital print of a photographic plate from the Ritchey 60-inch telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory, made in 1908. from the archive of the Carnegie Observatories, in Pasadena, California.
more about this
Not all spaces weigh the same.
There are variations. The depths and darknesses,
Volume, lightness, and quintessences, of
Every emptiness’s chiaroscuro.
Not all spaces are devoid of presence, some
Harbour unstated substance in subtle doubt,
Pass trembling semaphores of existence,
Harmonise plainsung intimations of light.
Not all spaces are rendered on our charts, still
Undiscovered emptier places may await. Nulls of
Colder, quieter, unexpressed embraces. Voids as
Void as only absence might surrender.
To my delight and surprise, I’m once again shortlisted in Stanza’s Digital Slam.
My entry this year is a reading of ‘Butterfly Mind in Blue’. The poem was partly inspired by an amazing specimen in the Bell Pettigrew Museum in St Andrews, but, of course, it is about more than that.
You can see all the entries and vote here (‘Butterfly Mind in Blue’ is number 9!)
If you feel compelled to tell every person you know to drop in and vote, who am I to stop you ?!
Striped poles breach ice for air
Teethed from receding gums,
A subcutaneous intermezzo,
Scoring transition in climatic change.
Twotone staves note unplayed lies,
Fairways this fine walk lately spoiled,
Waymarking corrugated silks,
Bared isoclines in flowing tundras.
If my mind was pierced and volted
By tomorrow’s fillamentary spikes,
Would transient echos sound silence,
Or contour forms in glacial deposition?
Ablation stakes yard the melt,
Surrendering these undulating moguls,
New life lies thawing in thermal shock.
Ablative armour in yielding protects.