The Journey

This is the first of three poems that I wrote and performed at the ‘Poetic Science’ event which was part of the Southampton Science and Engineering Festival Goes Digital in March 2021. The idea of the event was that a group of academics would write poetry about their research, I was one of the academics. Our first task from Dr Helen Eastman, who ran the workshops, was to write a poem about how we ended up doing our research, an origin poem, so this is mine, and it’s called ‘The Journey’.

So,

super

massive

black

holes

exist.

An actual thing,

at the very centre,

of every galaxy:

remarkable, colossal.

One hundred million suns,

squashed beyond physics.

Wheeled into the classroom, the large TV, the creaky wheels, our teacher, she pushes it and smiles.

I’m sat up front, first wooden bench, high on rickety wooden stool. Everyone is fixated in wonder.

The pure excitement of watching television in a science class. This is today’s lesson, watching TV.

Energy grows in all of us, the expectation, the theatre of it. Trolley wheels stop creaking, centre stage.

The show, Horizon, recorded by the teacher last night, she just had to show it to us all. Today.

The room is silent, brown wooden and cold – outside grey. Here we learn about Biology, normally, nature

but these blackholes on the screen, so big. They are nature too. Apparently,

so the screen says. How can they be? Our very own galaxy,

all the 100 billion galaxies, they all have one. A super massive black hole.

Sarah shouts ‘Is this right Miss? Is this really science?’ Miss responds ‘Yes’.

I’m totally transfixed. Behind me Kelly and Alex are giggling, some gossip,

but I don’t care. This new information, immense. My mind sparked. I didn’t know!

Could our Milky Way galaxy really be the host of something so enormous?

The scale and mass of it. It’s all so vast. Yet, it is… real.

The centre of everything.

You can do it. You. Make maps of active galactic nuclei A.K.A supermassive black holes.

See, examine. Be the first. You know, some have jets that extend for hundreds of light years.

Some don’t. It’s a mystery. You’ll get paid – to look at space, explore, travel to big telescopes.

Be the first to unravel it all, analyse data – this puzzling light.

You will be the centre. No-one else. No-one before you,

not this galaxy anyway, not in this way. It’s an enigma,

this science,

a dark art.

Radio waves

extending,

tracing jets.

X-rays too,

mapping

the swirl.

Become

an artist,

a witch.

Interpret

EM light.

The secrets.

The event

horizon.

Singularity.

It will be you.

You, the centre.

Image credit: here

This poem is also a ‘concrete poem’ in that I have tried to reflect the shape of the region around a supermassive blackhole in the shape of the words on the page so the middle section, the block of text represents the accretion disc around the black hole and then the longer stanzas either side represent the jets that are launched from near the edge of the blackhole and are linked to strong magnetic fields. You could also think of the final stanza’s shape as the path of material inside the blackhole to the singularity – which links well with me being at the centre of the research at the end of my PhD journey.

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