These days many of my weekend breaks are research trips: Cardiff, Iceland - and now Liverpool. It was my first time in the city and I was here for an exhibition of photographs from the 1914 Shackleton Endurance expedition. The Albert Docks were beautiful on this bright January day and I wished we'd had more time to explore. The Maritime Museum was also very impressive with exhibitions on the Titanic, on Slavery, Art and the Sea as well as Shackleton. All good reasons in themselves to come here again but the Shackleton exhibition was so spectacular, it kept me busy for two and a half hours.
There seemed to be hundreds of photographs, all printed from Frank Hurley's original plate negatives. I learned so much about the expedition from trawling through them. And useful snippets from the men's diaries alongside. Even maps of the period were fascinating. In previous centuries, Antarctica was either completely missing from the map or 'the white edge' with no detail - the guessed-at continent. Explorers such as Shackleton had only been probing its shores for a few decades and were filling in the maps as they went.
The photographs painted a vivid picture of the hardships of the men, of their camaraderie and their increasingly desperate plight. But what shone through was the vision - literally - and the passion of one man, the remarkable Frank Hurley, a gifted photographer working at the cutting edge of his art in that era. So enthralled was he by what he saw, he even dived into the freezing waters of the sinking ship's hold to retrieve these plates. Inevitably, I started jotting a poem on the spot:
He loved the ice, this man,
laid his eyes upon it
with an illuminating caress;
sugar surface, snow pebbles, ice caves, stalactites ...
even when it defeated
them, wrenched them, imperilled
and appalled them,
he kept faith
stealing back with his tripod and plates
to spread his gaze
over its infinite broken form
its sea-changing, melting magnificence ...
I love a good museum and was astonished that this wonderful exhibition was entirely for FREE. Long may places like the Merseyside Maritime Museum escape the grasping fingers of government cuts and offer such treasures to all. I shall certainly hope to return to Liverpool.
Writing is a journey, both imaginary and physical. My first book took me to the Arctic to 'catch the colours' of the Northern Lights. Then I hunkered down to catch the wind-blown voices of polar explorers on Shackleton's 1914-17 Endurance expedition. More recently I'm obsessed by space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier.
Hear a BBC Radio Leicester interview about my space poetry at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wfpyp
Explore my digital narrrative PHILAE'S BOOK OF HOURS, published by the European Space Agency, at:
My prose-poetry collections FIREBRIDGE TO SKYSHORE
and MAD, HOPELESS & POSSIBLE are both published by Original Plus Press at:
Contact me for signed copies or bookings at:
- Leicester, East Midlands
- As a storyteller, my work crosses boundaries of myth, science, history and spoken word. It has been presented in the British Science Museum, Ledbury Poetry Festival, National Space Centre and the European Space Agency website. In 2014 I ran a digital residency on WW1 for 14-18NOW and Writing East Midlands. I teach Creative Writing at De Montfort University and have experience of leading school events, workshop tuition and mentoring.