Gillian Clarke Speaks at Sophia Centre Press Book Launch

Gillian Clarke

former National Poet of Wales

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The Press was delighted to host the former National Poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke, at the launch of Ada Blair’s book, Sark in the Dark on the University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s Lampeter campus on 6 December. This was a double celebration for the Press – 3 December was our seventh birthday. Clarke is also one of our distinguished Press authors: her paper ‘Man, Mystery, Myth and Metaphor: Poetry and the Heavens’ is published in Heavenly Discourses. Gillian’s first poetry was published in 1971 and her escalating reputation resulted in her appointment as third National Poet of Wales in 2008, a post she held until 2016.

In her paper Clarke recalls a seminal incident from her childhood: ‘When I was a child my father would take me out on a clear night to look up at the sky. Often, quoting from Sean O’Casey’s play ‘Juno and the Paycock’, he’d say: ‘What is the stars?.’ We might have worked out what the stars are made of, but we can still gaze upwards and ask the same question. On another occasion, she remembers a gathering of 16 year olds from Reading at Ty Newydd, the Welsh Writers house in Gwynedd. This is how she tells it:

One clear night we doused the house lights and stepped out to watch the Perseids, the August meteor shower. We lay on our backs on the lawn. Between their chorus of cries at every shooting star, I pointed out the planets, the constellations, the Milky Way. The students were astonished. For them such heavenly bodies were the stuff of fantasy, the content of science fiction novels, comics and movies. Suddenly one of the boys uttered these immortal words: ‘Wow! Do we ‘ave these in Reading?’

One of the revolutionary features of the sky is that it’s mostly the same wherever we are. Some stars may be seen only in the northern hemisphere or the southern, but the Sun, Moon and planets are no respecters of national boundaries. The same Sun rises in Portugal as Peru and in Canada as Cameroon, reminding us that the national boundaries w believe in so fervently are temporary fabrications.

A good crowd turned out to the grand surroundings of the University’s Old Hall and were rewarded with wine and mince pies. Clarke was erudite and eloquent, Blair’s book was launched and the Press entered its eighth year.

Enjoy the full programme here:

Lecturer: Nicholas Campion is Programme Director of the MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology, Director of the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture and Principal Lecturer in the Faculty of Humanities and the Performing at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

His recent books include the two-volume History of Western Astrology (London: Continuum 2008/9) and The New Age in the Modern West: Counter-Culture, Utopia and Prophecy from the late Eighteenth Century to the Present Day (London: Bloomsbury 2015). Recent papers include ‘The Moral Philosophy of Space Travel: A Historical Review’, in Jai Galliot (ed.), Commercial Space Exploration: Ethics, Policy, Governance (Abingdon: Ashgate, 2015), pp. 9-22; ‘Archaeoastronomy and Calendar Cities’ in Daniel Brown (ed.), Modern Archaeoastronomy: From Material Culture to Cosmology, Journal of Physics: Conference Series, Vol. 865, 2016, pp. 1-7; and ‘The Imaginal Sky in the Medieval World’ in Eric Lacey (ed.), Starcræft. Watching the Heavens in the Middle Ages, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press (forthcoming).

Announcing: Sark in the Dark, by Ada Blair

The following is an excerpt of the foreword to Astrology As Art: Representation and Practice, edited by Nicholas Campion and Jennifer Zahrt. This volume was recently launched at the 4th annual Sophia Centre Postgraduate Conference at the London Campus of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. This anthology brings together key contributions from nine scholars who spoke at the Sophia Centre annual conference in 2015 on the theme ‘Astrology as Art’. We address the issues in two ways. First, is astrology an art? And, second, what does art say about astrology? And underpinning those two questions is the deeper one which asks how we create meaningful relationships with the cosmos. Please enjoy this excerpt:

Sark in the Dark

by Ada Blair

Ada Blair, Sark in the Dark: Wellbeing and Community of the Dark Sky Island of Sark (Lampeter: Sophia centre Press, 2016), £15.00, Paperback, 210 pp.

ISBN 978-1-907767-42-5

LAMPETER, United Kingdom— (Nov. 30, 2016) – Dark Sky communities are emerging all over the world, providing evidence of a growing demand for developing a relationship to the night sky. Yet, most academic studies of dark sky culture tend to focus on ‘green’ or grounded nature and the negative effects of light pollution on humans and animals. Rarely have the benefits of a dark night sky been explored. A new book by Ada Blair, a therapist and scholar from Edinburgh, Scotland, remedies this and examines the missing sky factor in discussions and calculations of human wellbeing. In Sark in the Dark: Wellbeing and Community on the Dark Sky Island of Sark (Sophia Centre Press, 2016), Blair specifically focuses on the dark night sky and how it affects people and their communal relations on the island of Sark, the world’s first dark sky island. The book features interviews with residents of Sark and a reflective consideration of the impact of the night sky on their lives. Dr Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the Greenwich Observatory, noted, ‘Blair explores another, equally important dimension of the dark sky debate. For our relationship with the environment is not just physical, but emotional and imaginative too’. Dr Daniel Brown, Senior Astronomy Lecturer, Nottingham Trent University, adds, ‘the most capturing moment is Blair’s realisation that sky stories are written by all of us, and are not merely a theme of folklore and myths’.

The book appears timely, as Wales’ recent passing of the Well-being of Future Generations Act in 2015 shows that official support for an ecological awareness on wellbeing is gaining momentum. In fact, there’s a missing Welsh connection, too. Blair’s book is based on the research she performed for her dissertation for her MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology from the Sophia Centre at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

Media contacts:

Dr Jenn Zahrt, Creative Director, Sophia Centre Press, +1-646-583-0555, jz@sophiacentrepress.com

Dr Nicholas Campion, Editorial Director, Sophia Centre Press, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, n.campion@uwtsd.ac.uk

Nicholas Campion,
Associate Professor of Cosmology in Culture,
Principal Lecturer, Faculty of Humanities and the Performing Arts,
University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

Jennifer Zahrt,
Honorary Research Fellow,
Faculty of Humanities and the Performing Arts,
University of Wales Trinity Saint David.