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Gillian Clarke

former National Poet of Wales


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).

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