New Light for Old Horizons

There is no doubt that one of the best parts of my work as a freelance poet, writer, and teacher is the opportunity to meet and collaborate with people in the arts, museums, and education who love and believe in what they do, and most of all, who want to share that knowledge and access with others. On Tuesday, I returned to the imposing rooms of Blythe House, where Science Museum Curator Katie Maggs treated me and photographer Marcos Avlonitis to the chance to photograph not one but two ‘pocket,’ or ‘artificial’ horizons.

Photograph: Marcos Avlonitis. Object: Science Museum, Pocket Horizon.Gloved hand: Kelley Swain's.

Photograph: Marcos Avlonitis.
Object: Science Museum, Pocket Horizon.
(Artificial black glass horizon with fitted case, made by L.I. Casella, Hatton Garden, City of London 1865 – 1871.)
Gloved hand: my own!

We had the chance to actually dust off these enchanting objects for a photo shoot which will eventually become the cover of our poetry pamphlet, Pocket Horizon. While I talked with Katie about possibilities for readings at the Science Museum, Marcos snapped away, brimming with enthusiasm about the objects – ‘It is such an honour to get to photograph these, that people will get to see them when they otherwise would be hidden away,’ he said, and I was thrilled that everyone felt they were equally enriched by the experience, that it was far more an just a job to do.

Coincidentally, whilst coordinating Pocket Horizon – including our workshop with Don Paterson and the Nevada Street Poets, a second workshop at the Wellcome Club, liaising with Cassie Herschel-Shorland (who is doing the art for the pamphlet,) and communicating with Marcos & Katie to arrange our photo shoot, not to mention emailing with our lovely editor Jamie – my bedtime reading has been the fantastic romp of a book, Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon. Researching information about pocket horizons suddenly made me realise that my ‘reading for fun’ and latest project overlap in a very obvious way, reminding me that my ‘work’ and ‘pleasure’ are one and the same, as any lucky writer would have it.

There’s a good, basic website here about navigation and cartography. Regarding celestial navigation, it mentions: ‘In the Northern Hemisphere, latitude was determined by measuring the altitude or angle of the North Star, Polaris, from the horizon, with finely scaled brass instruments called octants orsextants. Determining the altitude of Polaris on land required another instrument called an artificial horizon since the true horizon is generally obscured.’ If your curiosity is piqued, you’ll be pleased to learn that we’ll have more information about pocket horizons in the book, which will be out this year.

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