Beforehand, Dani and I met his parents for a yummy dinner at Hummus Bros, which I highly recommend!
Thanks to Ani and Ilia for the absolutely beautiful flowers, and to Ilia for the photography!
We then carried on to the Grant Museum where I met Melanie, Will and Jack. Melanie is my good friend and also, among her myriad titles, co-organizer for the Cambridge Science and Literature Reading Group. Jack is part of the Grant Museum and Will is my editor from Flambard Press. Special thanks to all three for their organization, contributions and opening words.
The Grant Museum was the perfect place for the launch of Darwin’s Microscope, and in his comments, Jack explained why. For one, the Museum is housed in the Darwin Building, named so because it is the same site as where Charles himself used to live when he lived in London.
Another great connection to Charles is that the Grant Museum is named after Robert Edmond Grant, who was one of Charles’s early tutors and introduced the enthusiastic young beachcomber to ideas of evolution. Finally, the Museum houses Thomas Henry Huxley’s collection of specimens, and we all know Huxley was one of Darwin’s great proponents. (I wonder though, if he was called ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ not only because of his defensiveness of Darwin but also because he looked a bit like one?)
The museum being full of zoological specimens is also relevant to my book not only for the Darwin connections, but also because it is much like the zoology laboratory in which I studied (though of course the museum has a much more extensive collection,) and this is the very sort of atmosphere which inspired most of the poems in the book.
The space prompted me to read part of the longest poem in the book, ‘In the Lab,’ which I almost never read as I feel it works better on the page. However, part I of the poem was a perfect way to ‘set the scene’ for the rest of the reading.
In The Lab
Embryos of chicken and pig,
necks folded at obtuse angles,
yellow in jars. Humming
vent swallows fumes; cool
musk permeates, mixes
with mothball, formalin, dust.
Jaws, scales, fur, and feathers,
all stiffened. Iridescent shingles
on purple Lepidoptera.
Trilobite fossils from Utah,
Parrot, eagle, old penguin
crusty with dandruff.
Wood duck wire-stiffened
into permanent flight.
Empty, peeling box-tortoise shell.
Snakes spiraled into glass
with faded labels, withered egg-cases.
Eyeless snapping turtles,
rusty-pink, rotting, stuffed, tagged,
boxed, jarred, examined.
The reading went quite well; many people said they enjoyed it and the two Museum employees there gave me generous compliments, in stark contrast to their extreme disappointment at some other ‘Darwin-inspired’ readings elsewhere. I liked this venue for the intimate space and fantastic collection, as well as the Darwin connections, and I’m really pleased the launch was at the Grant.
Afterwards, everyone enjoyed wine provided by Flambard Press, and got a chance to really appreciate the Museum specimens– hopefully in a new light!
I especially appreciate the support and love from my family on this side of the Atlantic.
I do wish my family and friends from the US could have been there, but I also can look forward to the Stateside book launch in Virginia in April, and subsequent visits to family and friends!
I also always appreciate hearing people’s thoughts on the book, and was happy to talk to various people, some of whom I knew and some new faces. There seems to be a special appreciation of blending the science and literature which really gives me joy, as that is exactly what I’m trying to do– and not getting too caught up in being too extreme on either the art or science side.
My next event is Monday 9th March in the Lloyd Room of Christ’s College, Cambridge, at 7:30pm. It is in conjunction with Boris Jardine giving a talk on his research on Darwin’s actual microscopy, and the Science & Literature Reading Group is hosting. It’s a ‘Darwin 200‘ event for Cambridge.
Everyone is welcome, so if you missed the launch, try to come!
I also encourage people to visit the Grant Museum. It is a wonderful little space, chocker-block full of amazing specimens. I could happily spend hours and days in there if I got the chance! Of course, an interest in zoology helps, but hopefully my book of poetry is encouraging people to think in and interdisciplinary way.
I shall add a none-too-subtle point; many people are asking ‘when can they get the book.’
Well, it is out and available, so any time you’d like, whether you are in the US or the UK.
So order yours today at http://www.flambardpress.co.uk, and ask me to sign it for you when you see me!