An encounter with art and science by night on the Hill of the Nymphs

In this era of specialization, the arts and sciences sometimes seem universes apart, so an innovative event bringing poetry and astronomy together is a welcome corrective. Tomorrow, the eve of the full moon, the British Council and the Athens Observatory are holding a reading of poems about astronomy at the observatory on the Hill of the Nymphs in Thiseion at 8 p.m. British poet Lavinia Greenlaw, who often writes verse on scientific subjects, is reading from her own work and poems by other British poets. Actor Giorgos Kimoulis is reading verse by Greek poets including Christos Goudis, director of the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics. The audience will be able to examine the night sky through the observatory’s main telescope and other telescopes set up by the Society of Amateur Astronomers. «Poetry and astronomy are an unusual combination but linking literature to other sectors of British Council work is part of our exciting new literature program,» Mary Haroyianni, library and literature manager at the British Council, told Kathimerini English Edition. «The original idea was sparked off by Costas Kaldis, head of contemporary society at the British Council, and our partner in the event Professor Christos Goudis who is also a published poet, writing poetry mainly on the theme of Astronomy. It was unanimously agreed that the observatory is the ideal setting for this event.» The two poets who are appearing tomorrow shared their views about poetry in interviews with Kathimerini English Edition. Greenlaw explains how she started writing poems about science. «I come from a family of doctors and scientists,» she says, «and these subjects were discussed around me as I was growing up. When I began to write seriously, I was most interested in perception and the ways in which we try to map and measure our world. Science was a form of natural metaphor for this.» Goudis, who will introduce the Greek poems at the reading, says he can’t really discriminate between art and science: «They both spring from human experience and they both require imagination and logic.» He rejects the notion that poetry lacks logic and science lacks imagination. «Groundbreaking science, such as quantum mechanics, involves highly imaginative concepts.» This event bridges two divides, says Goudis, the arts/science divide and the cultural divide. He is very keen for young Greeks to benefit from cross-cultural activities. Rare and elusive Asked about what she derives from writing poetry as opposed to other types of writing, Greenlaw explains: «Poetry only happens when you want it to, and it arrives as a sensation – perhaps as a phrase as well, but always a particular sensation. This is the feeling of acuity and possibility which makes it possible to write briefly and intensely on a number of levels at once. While a poem then ‘cools’ and requires rigorous editing like the other forms, it is never something I can conjure or prompt, as I can the other forms. So it feels more rare, more elusive, more prized.» Commenting on the popularity of poetry readings in Britain, and whether poetry was becoming more accessible or popular, Greenlaw says: «Poetry will always be a minority art form, which does not, I believe, make it less important than the others. For me part of its joy lies in its difficulty and while I think plenty can be done to encourage people to read it more, it is a mistake to promote it as instant or easy.» Exciting program This innovative event is just one of several the British Council has planned. «We have decided that we will devote more of our resources to literature, both from our remodeled library (which now specializes in literature and language), and by developing a more exciting program,» says Haroyianni. «There is great interest in Greece in the contemporary scene – not only in the work being produced by young novelists, but also in the innovative approaches, such as performance poetry. The idea of exploring the link between poetry and science falls into this pattern of innovation.» The British Council has already organized performance poetry events combining literature, music and live performance in clubs in Thessaloniki. Upcoming events include diverse and innovative theater productions. The focus this year, says Haroyianni, «is on familiarizing our friends and customers in Greece with the multicultural aspect of contemporary UK literature, literature in performance, literature and science and translation.» The British Council is offering free transport to the event. Coaches leave Kolonaki Sq at 7.45 p.m. and return at 11 p.m. Call Mary Haroyianni, tel 010.369.2318, to book seats. Lavinia Greenlaw and Christos Goudis Lavinia Greenlaw is a highly regarded British poet who has won several awards for her work. She also writes drama and fiction. Her first collection of poems, «Night Photograph,» was published by Faber in 1990. In 2000, she received a three-year fellowship from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. She is looking forward to visiting Athens. «When I was a child I was fascinated by Greek myths, as my daughter has been too,» she says. Christos Goudis studied physics in Athens and astronomy in Manchester, a city he regards as his second home. He has worked in some of the world’s largest observatories and is currently director of the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the National Observatory in Athens. Goudis, who has published several collections of verse, will introduce the poets at tomorrow’s reading.

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