Welcome to our new blog page! First up, we blog about our approaches to writing for Harry Moseley: “…meteor of a summer night…” coming up soon on National Poetry Day, Thursday 8th October at the Oxford Museum of the History of Science – don’t miss it!
“Today, Wednesday 30th September, just returned from the latest Harry Moseley rehearsal at the museum, with Andrew, Carl, Meg and Sarah, to get used to reading in the room where we will be giving the show on National Poetry Day. It all seemed to go very well! Next rehearsal: Monday 5th October at the monthly meeting at 116 Southfield Road! Can’t wait!” – Bill.
“Last Friday morning, 25th September, Lucinda and I had a wonderful time with ten creative writing students from Langley Academy – and their teacher Liz – in the poetry workshop we ran at the Oxford Museum of the History of Science. We got through a tour of the “Dear Harry…” Special exhibition, given by Liz Bruton, an object-handling session run by Chris Parkin, and three separate writing exercises, with only ten minutes break! At the end, we were exhausted, but very pleased with the quality of the work we had seen confidently presented by the students. We very much hope some of them will read with us on National Poetry Day” – Bill.
“I hadn’t heard of Henry Moseley before I went to the exhibition. It took me a long time to absorb the varied material of the exhibition before it began to come clear what I wanted to write about. The second visit I made, in response to the Museum’s invitation to a special tour clarified a lot of the issues and interests that arose from the first visit. In the end the three short poems I wrote reflected the stages I went through as I meditated on what I had learned.
“First of all, I was much taken by the ‘pity of war’ aspect, not only of Harry’s death but the equally unnecessary premature deaths of so many on both sides and the continuing pain for their families. The idea of gaps in family photographs connected up with the gaps in the Periodic Table and moved me on to the positive legacy of Harry’s short life and the contribution he made to contemporary physics. Finally, I became really interested in the history of physics and how so many physicists have used words such as ‘elegance’, ‘symmetry’ and ’beauty’ to refer to the revelations of the nature of the world within the atomic particle. I feel sure that Harry’s dedication to his work must have owed much to the pleasure he experienced of this ’poetry’ at the heart of physics” – Jenny
“I never really understood about the Periodic Table – why it was regarded by my science friends with such affection and respect. It was only after visiting the Museum of the History of Science and seeing the careful charts that Harry Moseley prepared, and the 21st century animation that showed how he got his results, that I began to get a feeling of why people felt happy looking at the Periodic Table. Something to do with the satisfaction of symmetry and balance – of things falling into place. A bit like poetry really. This was the starting-point of my poem ‘Missing’ “- Meg
“It’s his eyes that took hold of me: as clear as a schoolboy’s, as penetrating as a poet’s. The photographer has him forever gazing directly into the camera, with the vigilant but calm concentration of the experimental scientist. A man who worked relentlessly for hours on end, apparently in a world of his own, but in reality attuned to the faintest murmur, the smallest detail of the natural, objective, world. I wanted to write about that young man, Harry Moseley” – Bill
“How could Harry Moseley have acquired the intellectual confidence and experimental skill to take on the big question: what are atoms made of? I went to John Heilbronn’s lecture and was touched by slides showing photographs of his devoted mother Amabel at the chessboard (in rows of 8 like the Periodic Table). A childhood of love and nature study, chemistry at Edwardian Eton; with Fellows of the Royal Society on both sides of the family, he would have been reared believing that nature is explicable by experimentation and with no lack of personal confidence” – Sarah
“The exhibition captures very well the atmosphere of a particular period in the development of modern physics. The certainties of ‘smooth’ theories were being questioned – the shell of classical physics was beginning to crack. The exhibition does not tell us this, but rather allows us to experience it by entering into the atmosphere of Moseley’s own work. His impatience to collect X-ray spectra of as many elements as possible. His development of apparatus that allowed multiple samples to be studied one after the other without dismantling the apparatus. The urgency to publish, to be first, but only when he was confident his results would stand up to scrutiny by other physicists.
At first I thought that as well as telling the history of this particular moment, the exhibition should, so to speak, tell us the ending. We know now that the shell that was cracking would eventually reveal the quantum revolution of Schrödinger, Heisenberg and others. On reflection I think the exhibition is the better for not telling us this. Moseley could not know the future so why should we? We never do in our own lives.
My poem tries to capture both the immediacy of Moseley’s work in the laboratory making measurements and the significance of the discoveries he made. I have used both my ‘poet’s’ voice and Moseley’s own words to create this effect” – Andrew
“I’ve always kept diaries and I still do, so seeing Amabel Moseley’s diaries for 1915 caught me up in a web of remembering. Like her I used my own small, lined Letts mainly for engagements. But what hooked me on the diaries was Liz Bruton (the special exhibition curator) drawing our attention during the tour to the way Amabel, Harry’s mother, had gone back through 1915 crossing out appointments and adding events relating to Harry, turning it in fact, into a memorial to Harry. I was struck by how in this way the past had been both fixed and altered for her. Liz Bruton was a tremendous help emailing me photos of diary pages and providing me with all the other information I asked for. I hope the resulting poem will do justice to all this” – Hilda.