Science and symbolism

My background is not that of a typical poet – I studied Physics at university, and I now work at a software company. People are often surprised to find I write poetry, and I usually get asked about poetry and science, and “Aren’t they completely different?” And I would answer that with a “No”. They’re actually quite similar. My approach to both is the same.

Typically with science research, it proceeds as follows: you make an observation of something interesting, and you try to understand what is happening. You then communicate what happened in a way that people can understand, often using equations where letters are symbols representing properties of the system you observed.

It’s the same with poetry, I try and communicate my observations and thoughts concisely through the symbols of poetic imagery. On the surface, the poems may be short and simple, but underneath they are communicating something deeper and more complex through those symbols. I think it is important to make the poems accessible, in order to share the knowledge with a wide audience.

Above my writing desk in Cambridge I have a map of the Forest of Dean pinned to the wall. Although I no longer live in the Forest, I’m still attached to it and it influences my writing heavily. A map is a symbolic representation of an area. Having the map there when I’m working means that I can interpret and think about the Forest in a different way. I see a distanced symbolic view of it, one that allows me to add extra parts to my writing, something of myself or something imaginary.

Writing desk. Blue wall with a map of the Forest of Dean. On the desk are the books TS Eliot Collect Poems, White Noise by Don DeLillo, The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, and Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter. Also photographs of the Forest of Dean in Autumn, a book of 6 first class stamps, and in the centre of the desk is a green notebook.

My writing desk