Simon Barraclough's collection Sunspots resulted in a residency with the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, which followed a fascination with astronomy which stemmed from his childhood. One Giant Read caught up with Simon to discover his thoughts on the relationship between science and poetry. Check out our interview with Simon below…
What inspires you to write about science in your work?
I don’t so much write ‘about’ science, it’s more that science enters my work because it is fascinating, surprising and inspiring. For instance, my new book Sunspots is a long sequence of poems devoted to the Sun. My obsession with our incredible neighbourhood star – this creative engine of the universe – was the starting point. Science then found ways into my book and my research because it illuminates and makes more complex this astronomical wonder with which we have an intense (but occasionally negligent) relationship.
My attempts to make people excited by the Sun and to provide as many varied approaches to the subject as possible inevitably led me to the science behind, within and around our Sun.
Science fiction offers the chance to explore imagined possibilities; can you say what role does science fact play in your writing?
In my writing, science fact tends to provide new sources of language and ideas. But it quickly gets mingled with poetic versions of reality or conceits. For example, my Sun dishes out Priority Boarding passes to neutrinos, weaves flux ropes and thinks up skipping games for children who dash to school avoiding her shadows. I love to explore the tension created by the fear of making the poetry too scientific and the science too poetic. I’m working, like many physicists, on fusion.
Is there any particular writer who has impacted upon the way you write or think about the genre?
I certainly owe a debt to the great Scottish Makar, Edwin Morgan: to his range, experimentations, playfulness, and love of science fact and fiction. I’m also eternally indebted to Shakespeare and Milton whose works haunt me at every step.
Some of our readers are new to the genre, if you could give them one reason to try it, what would that be?
By ‘the genre’ you mean writing that includes or is in inspired by science fact? Just try to avoid science as you’re researching a subject: it’s almost impossible to do. So it’s there already and must be dealt with. Fortunately, it’s a fascinating, beautiful, often confounding dimension to engage with. During what I think of as my long ‘poetry apprenticeship’, I read only poetry and non-fiction. Non-fiction is an absolutely brilliant source of ideas and excitements with which to fuel your imagination. Science fact is non-fiction in perhaps its most ideal form, so go and wade into it, fill your boots, fill your mind. And then do something strange with it.
Tim Peake is on a mission to the International Space Station for six months. Can you imagine yourself exploring space on this kind of mission?
I often find myself orbiting Neptune, gazing through my porthole at that beautiful but deadly blue giant. Pausing on my mission, I look back at my sorrowful solar system and dream about what I’ll find in other galaxies, other systems, and on the other side of the rabbit wormholes I’m leaving for.