Inaugural Poem

See Nobel Winner Derek Walcott read “Forty Acres“, a poem written for Barack Obama. It is fascinating to see what place poetry is given, or what place it claims, for events such as this. 

Here is an interesting article on the topic of occasional poetry (poetry for an occasion). This article is a bit more dense but also more intellectual.

This is the NPR story he mentions, where poet Elizabeth Alexander talks about writing the inauguration poem for Obama. Finally, read “Bards at the Inaugural Gates” here.

I’ll be happy to post the poem itself when I can manage to find a copy! Of course I’m very curious to hear/read it…


A positive thought and a negative thought from Samuel Taylor, both probably true:


But where there exists that degree of genius and talent which entitles a writer to aim at the honors of a poet, the very act of poetic conposition itself is, and is allowed to imply and to produce, an unusual state of excitement, which of course justifies and demands a correspondent difference of language, as truly, though not perhaps in as marked a degree, as the excitement of love, fear, rage, or jealousy. The vividness of the descriptions or declamations in DONNE or DRYDEN is as much and as often derived from the force and fervor of the describer, as from the reflections, forms or incidents, which constitute their subject and materials. The wheels take fire from the mere rapidity of their motion …


… With no other privilege than that of sympathy and sincere good wishes, I would address an affectionate exhortation to the youthful literati, grounded on my own experience. It will be but short; for the beginning, middle, and end converge to one charge: NEVER PURSUE LITERATURE AS A TRADE. …

Urban Fox: Part II

The garden has been busy this morning! The poem in the post below was prompted by the wild yelping, followed by a few foxes running around. However, my speculations were answered pretty swiftly when the pair began mating, right in the middle of the garden! It’s 10:30 am for goodness’ sake…It was pretty fascinating to watch, actually.

There was an open-mouthed behaviour that I first thought was the female telling the male to **ss off, where she held her mouth open and bared her teeth, and he did the same in response. It actually seemed to be more like an, ok are you ready to go again? Gesture. 

Male on the left, female on the right.
Male on the left, female on the right.

The whole shindig carried on for quite some time, probably about an hour. I didn’t watch the entire time, but I did get rather nervous when I realized my neighbour’s little cat was hanging out just below our window! The foxes couldn’t have cared less. After a little bit of research it seems that urban foxes don’t tend to go for cats, which is good news and also makes sense–there are an awful lot of cats in this neighbourhood as well as an awful lot of foxes. Some really interesting information about London foxes can be found here

Unfortunately, while I was observing the mating foxes and doing research about what was going on and their level of threat to the cat, they finished mating. (That’s not the unfortunate part.) When dogs finish mating, they “tie” or get stuck together:

“This is due to the bulbis glandis of the male dog’s penis swelling after it enters the female, thus preventing the male from withdrawing from the female until after the swelling has subsided. This is a completely natural occurrence that can last anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, and does not hurt either one of the dogs. The worst thing a person can do is to try and pull them apart because that can cause trauma to both dogs.”

The happy couple
The happy couple

Well, trauma may have occurred, because after about five minutes of the “tie,” the neighbour (in the flat below), ran out, clapping her hands and driving the foxes off…The neighbour turned to see her cat, innocently standing by, and made a dramatic gesture of relief. 

I wasn’t able to see, but what happened to the poor, post-coital foxes? Did they have to lope off sideways, butts stuck together? Based on the way they were pulling each other around, back-to-back, they were very definitely stuck.

If only the neighbour were more well-informed, she wouldn’t have been so worried about her cat and maybe would have left the foxes alone. Even if foxes did eat cats, they certainly weren’t thinking about food at that point!

Even though I’ve got to adjust to the number of foxes around, I should say that I certainly wouldn’t advocate shooting them. It seems pointless, (and cruel,) as they just breed more and a new fox will take the territory of one that has been “culled”. Once you know what the yipping is, it’s not so bad, though if you don’t know it can certainly scare you! Urban foxes are part of city life, just as other wildlife is part of country life. People should adapt– the foxes certainly have.

Urban Fox

Foxes scream at each other in the garden.

Wild pig-squeals in the morning,

territorial or matrimonial I do not know,

but isn’t a fox nocturnal? Why do these two lope effortlessly

over the garden wall, big, bushy, russet.

So this is why neighbourhood cats are so big. The fox

trots past me on the street in the afternoon, blue eyes

eerie, looking elsewhere. Am I not a threat?  I turn,

half-expecting teeth at my ankle. You foxes, I am foreign

to your urban nature. The fox I know hides until dusk,

takes cats for dinner, ravages bird-feeders,

not rubbish bins. The fox I know does not yell and run

through gardens in the mist of the day.

2009, the year of Darwin

Along with about a million other people in the UK and throughout the world, I’m gearing up for a very busy, Darwin-filled year. Many people have already commented on how they were sick of Darwin before 2009 even began, but not me.

In case you haven’t heard, 2009 is the 200th anniversary celebrating the birth of Charles Darwin. He was born on 12th February. 2009 is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of his most famous book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. I’ve read it. Have you? 


The BBC has a great programme planned around Darwin and biology to inform and inspire. Cambridge is hosting what is probably the most intellectually-packed, worthy of name-dropping festival, called ‘Darwin 2009.’ Pretty much every museum, science-related or education-related organization will hold events. Below I post a list of what little ol’ me will be doing (so far) for 2009.

I should probably note that I’ve got a number of other projects in the works, of which I will speak once they are confirmed. This includes two new projects (one poetry-related and one fiction-related), so I promise I won’t be going on about Darwin’s Microscope forever…

19th January: I turn 24! Ok, this isn’t really book-related, but it’s exciting. And it is related because I set a personal goal to get published by the time I turned 25. Time for some new goals…

February: Darwin’s Microscope comes out! This, of course, is very important, as most of my other activities for 2009 relate to the book. I don’t know the exact date yet but it needs to be early in the month.

11th Feb: I will be at in the Aberdeen branch of Waterstone’s at the Cafe Scientifique, reading from the book and speaking about how it came to be.

12th Feb: I will be at the Aberdeen Zoology Museum, parked in front in the Reading Bus for a special Darwin Day event. I will read some poems and work with groups of school children to discuss museum objects including a platypus, some skeletons, and seashells, and encourage the students to write some science-inspired poetry of their own. Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin! I hear we may even have birthday cake…

25th Feb: The official book launch of Darwin’s Microscope, published by Flambard Press. My friend, Dr. Melanie Keene, who co-organizes the Cambridge Science and Literature Reading Group, will introduce the book. There will be wine, and the setting is the fabulous Victorian Grant Museum of Zoology, University College London– housed in the very London home of Charles Darwin himself!


The famous sketch Darwin drew regarding evolutionary branches
The famous sketch Darwin drew regarding evolutionary branches



9th March: Reading from Darwin’s Microscope after a talk by Cambridge academic Boris Jardine about his work on Darwin’s actual microscopes. Hosted by the Science and Literature Reading Group.  In the Lloyd Room, Christ’s College, Cambridge, 7:30pm.

18th March: Reading from Darwin’s Microscope at the Scottish Poetry Library.

27th-29th March: Presenting a paper on Cetology in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick at the British Society for Literature and Science conference at the University of Reading, as well as promoting DM.

6th-10th April: Visiting my alma mater, Randolph College in VA, to speak in classes, give a reading from DM, (the night of the 8th) and speak on an alumnae panel. 

15th-17th May: Read from DM at the Aberdeen Word Festival.

6th-10th July: Read from DM at The Darwin 200 Festival, Cambridge.

5th November: Speak at the Linnean Society, London, 5:30pm.