Monthly Archives: July 2012

An Apologie for Geopoetry

The geologist Dr. Eric Robinson has sent me a response to an earlier post on this blog, which I’ve pasted below.  Eric taught in University College London until 1999, during which time he became closely involved with the Geologists’ Association in its mission to take geology to a wider public. In the Geologists’ Association Newsletter in October 1992 he championed the poet Norman Nicholson as the archetypal ‘geologist’s poet’.  Nearly 20 years later, it was a pleasure to hear Eric speak on Nicholson at The Geological Society last year.


The Cycling Geologist

The White Room at Royal Festival Hall was filled to capacity last Wednesday evening to celebrate the launch of The Wolf: A Decade, an anthology of poems selected from the pages of The Wolf magazine, which was first published in 2002.  Hosted by the editor, James Byrne, the evening included readings by Nikola Madzirov (Macedonia), Alvin Pang (Singapore), Valzhyna Mort (Belarus), Ilya Kaminsky (Russian Federation) and Zeyar Lynn (Burma). The international range of those voices is an indicator of what has made The Wolf into the important UK publication that it is today: while promoting many UK writers, Byrne has published an impressive roster of world poets as well as works in translation. I’ve been dipping in and out of the anthology all week and have enjoyed poems by Carolyn Forché and Firas Sulaiman as well as James Womack’s translation of Mayakovsky’s ‘Brooklyn Bridge’, to name but a few. I also love the striking cover by Nick Byrne, which uses slices of old Wolf covers that look like minerals in thin section.  You can buy the anthology on The Wolf website here. Limited edition, so get in there quick!

Cole on the Humber-Beeston with Gerard Butler on penny-farthing (from The Gypsy Road, drawing by Edmund H. New)

The anthology contains my poem ‘The Cycling Geologist’, first published in The Wolf way back in December 2008. The poem is based on the life of the geologist Grenville Arthur James Cole (1859 – 1924), who conducted many cycling tours in Europe, which were recorded in his travelogues, the most fascinating of which is The Gypsy Road (1894). In that excursion Cole rode some one thousand and fifty five miles in thirty-eight days from Krakow to Coblentz on a Humber-Beeston tricycle, accompanied by his friend Gerard W. Butler who was perched atop a penny-farthing! That they did it in this time while also managing to examine rocks in detail, take trips down silver mines and climb volcanic cones is even more impressive.

There are some poems I can vividly remember writing, and this is one of them. I was in the top room of my in-laws’ house, looking out at the curving chalk of Wiltshire, with a photocopy of Patrick N. Wyse Jackson’s essay on Cole from Four Centuries of Geological Travel, and I was determined to write this poem. I believe I spent an afternoon in that room, but it felt like ten minutes, because the poem was a joy to write, the rhythms of the journey quickly finding their way into the lines, and Cole was simply such an amiable companion, permanently optimistic and a constant admirer of the world around him.

Cole’s ‘Roadster’ beneath Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo

I don’t think it is really a ‘geological poem’ (whatever that is) but more a biographical poem that has the welcoming structure of a journeymen’s science.  But now, years later, I think my basic knowledge of geology began with this and, in the act of writing, bits of the science were imbedded in my mind. I realise this especially when I travel in Ireland and can imagine Cole waxing lyrical about Cave Hill basalts or carboniferous Galway.

Patrick Wyse Jackson recently sent me a copy of a poem Cole wrote on his travels, called ‘The Lost City’ which was published in The Irish Review in 1911. As Wyse Jackson writes, it is ‘his only piece of published work of this genre, and it recalls the history and evolution of a Templar hospice in the Causse de Larzac in Aveyron in SE France.’[1]

This is its final section:



Couvertoirade, none could tame thee,

Shelter of captains, bulwark of kings;

These of old would fashion and frame thee;

Four grey stones are their quarterings.

I that lay in the sea’s embraces,

Lifted now to the eagle’s wings,

Shall I not love the wide air-spaces,

First created and last of things?

Oh, strong sister of Sauveterre,

Send me a blast as the pine-tree swings,

Pale Méjan, and the high Lozère,

Eastward set, where the thunder springs,

These shall aid, when to-day I name thee,

Born of me, reared on my breast made bare;

Couvertoirade, Couvertoirade,

Mine at last in the wild sweet air.


I am looking forward to my own first proper excursion as part of this project – to the East Yorkshire coast in August – and hope that it will inspire many types of poems, just as Cole’s journeys inspired him.  Though I prefer to see the land on foot.

[1] Wyse Jackson, P.N. ‘Grenville Cole (1859 – 1924): cycling geologist’ Four centuries of geological travel: the search for knowledge on foot, bicycle, sledge and camel Wyse Jacskson, P.N., ed. London: The Geological Society, 2007: p143