I’m delighted to have a poem (and some artwork) included as an ‘Editor’s Choice’ in Issue 5 of Consilience, the journal of poetry and science.
The theme of issue 5 was Rhythm and my poem is about remarkable research by researchers from the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews studying the songs of humpback whales in the South Pacific.
My friend Steve Smart is one of those people who overflows with talent. He’s a photographer, filmmaker, poet and all around Mr Fix-it when it comes to media and tech things. You can see his work here. He’s brought together a number of his talents with a lovely reflective, poetic piece appropriate to our times. Feast on this (a script follows):
Both are people whose work I admire hugely, and the conversation was a treat which I recommend. Amongst many topics covered at some point they touched on a story about an ancient hand stencil. This piece of cave art, believed to be the oldest yet discovered had been dated to over 64,000 years ago. Something sparked, and I knew I would be writing a poem…
TRAWL is an Official Selection for screening at the 2020 ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin
TRAWL is a video poem made for Stanza 2020 (Scotland’s International Poetry Festival) as part of Scotland’s Year of Coasts & Waters 2020.
It’s a collaboration between myself, poet Matthew Caley, using text from his sixth collection Trawlerman’s Turquoise, musician and bioacoustician Alex South, and experts in marine science at the University of St Andrews.
You can see TRAWL on a screen at the Byre Theatre during the Festival, or you can watch it on my Vimeo channel, right here… (volume up to hear Alex’s amazing soundtrack!)
It’s not just the simple rhyme of the title that sticks in the imagination, especially for those who saw the uncanny film as small children, something about its odd atmosphere seemed to resonate. Apparently in a 2004 Radio Times poll it was voted “20th spookiest show ever”, even though it was a story for children.
This visual poem is about an encounter with a kind of life after death. The title is a small homage to the strangeness of that children’s film.
I don’t think I’ve written a poem inspired by a diagram before. This particular diagram came to my attention as part of my “day job” as a designer. Over the past couple of months I’ve been working on graphics and media for an exhibition at Dundee Science Centre about research studying the songs of humpback whales in the South Pacific. The study was undertaken by researchers from the Sea Mammal Research Unit of the University of St Andrews.
It’s fascinating work, and one piece of it is distilled in a diagram made by Dr Ellen Garland and her colleagues. It shows how humpback songs recorded by scientists over a 10 year period have not only travelled regularly in a west-to-east pattern over a 10,000km long stretch of the Pacific, but have changed year-on-year as humpback whales learn each new season’s “score” and sing it across the ocean. You can find out more about this remarkable, and as yet little understood observation of whale culture on Ellen’s website.
The more I thought about Ellen’s diagram, the more I came to feel how deceptively simple it was. I think that as you look more and gain a sense structure over time, you realise this is showing something genuinely astonishing, that had previously been so hard to see (or hear!) as to be effectively invisible.
June 2021: I’m delighted to have this poem (and some artwork) included as an ‘Editor’s Choice’ in Issue 5 of Consilience, the journal of poetry and science.
The exhibition at Dundee Science Centre was supported by the Royal Society, the University of St Andrews, and Dundee Science Centre. It’s aimed at children, but there is lots for anyone to enjoy and find out. It launched on Saturday 28th September, and will be open for several months.