Each year StAnza commissions poets to respond to artefacts from the collections held by the museum of the University of St Andrews. With reference to this year’s themes, poets will be responding to artefacts linked to scientific samples, including the Challenger Expedition in the 1870s and other sea and polar expeditions.
The six civilian staff and scientists aboard the Challenger were under the direction of Wyville Thomson, Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh, who had proposed the expedition. Their discoveries laid the foundations for the science of oceanography and other expeditions and studies. A digital installation of images of the objects and resulting poems will be exhibited during the festival.
Lynn Davidson's poem responded to Cidaris tubuloides, a type of sea urchin. This was discovered off the coast of Bahia, Brazil during an expedition by The Challenger which took place from 1872 to 1876 and was key to the modern study of oceanography. The ship circumnavigated the globe and made many deep water dredgings to investigate ocean life on the seabed and the chemical nature of seabed deposits. Some of the dredgings are still used today for the study of climate change. The expedition took a sounding of the Challenger Deep area of the Marianas Trench, the deepest point on Earth, a discovery that has been key in our knowledge of the ocean.
Stephen Keeler’s poem responded to Challenger specimens of Pectinura maculate VII. Pectinura maculate VII is also known as the snake star, a type of brittle star. They have tentacles with hooks on the underside, allowing them to grip corals or grab prey. This was collected at Queen Charlotte, British Columbia by Challenger.
Jeda Pearl’s poem responded to a telegram from NASA. The telegram details the sending of lunar samples to the American Embassy in UK from NASA for research at St Andrews. Samples were estimated to arrive in St Andrews on 23 May 1971. It reads “PRIORITY DR HARALD I DREVER DEPARTMENT OF GEOLOGY UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREW S FIFE UNLAS TL4 WE ARE TRANSMITTING TO THE STATE DEPARTMENT LUNAR MATERIAL TO BE SENT VIA DIPLOMATIC COURIER TO THE AMERICAN EMBASSY IN YOUR COUNTRY THE EMBASSY SHOULD NOTIFY YOU WHEN THE SAMPLES ARE IN THEIR HANDS THE EMBASSY WILL PROBABLY ASK FOR YOUR IDENTIFICATION SGD MICHAELS DUKE LUNAR SAMPLE CURATOR NASA MSC HOUSTON TEXAS” Harald Drever studied the geology of Greenland and regularly visited the Arctic as part of his research. He also worked with the people of Igdlorssuit in Greenland. He worked with them to preserve some of their traditional crafts and lifestyles, including kayaking.
Chris Powici’s poem responded to microscope slides collected by William Carmichael McIntosh (1838-1931), Professor of Natural History (1882-1917). McIntosh (also written M’Intosh) was a specialist in marine zoology and the fishing industry. He was director of the University museum and was the first director of the Gatty Marine Laboratory.
McIntosh wrote two significant works, A Monograph of the British Annelids, illustrated with watercolours by his sister Roberta, and The Marine Invertebrates and Fishes of St Andrews. He took part in the Challenger expedition. The Museums care for hundreds of his slides, which show a variety of microscopic creatures and insect parts. The ones in the photograph include butterfly wings and bat hair. McIntosh was a Christian and many of the slide papers (which cover the parts of the slide not viewed under the microscope) have Bible verses printed on them; one of the slides in the photograph includes Psalm 111:2 from the King James Version: “The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.”
In association with the Museum of the University of St Andrews