Two Emeritus Professors – Patrick Corbett and John Gordon – discuss how geology is fundamental to geopoetics using the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset as a case study.
Kenneth White (founder of the International Institute of Geopoetics) has written: “Taking geology as ground-level, (geopoetics) is a new way of being human and of living a human life on this earth”. White, growing up on the coast of Ayrshire, walking with a geological field guide, appreciated the role of geology from an early age. His writings make many references to geology and he acknowledges that geology has had an important role in Scottish culture: “Hutton’s ‘Theory of the Earth’ I see as the bottom line of the Scottish Enlightenment”. We review other references to geology in his recently published Collected Works (Edinburgh University Press, 2020) to illustrate his depth of knowledge and engagement and to set the scene for a geopoetic case study outwith Scotland.
The Isle of Purbeck in Dorset on the South Coast includes part of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast and as such is a mecca for geological field trips. As part of the SW Coast Path it also attracts many walkers. With visitors such as Charles Kingsley, Thomas Hardy, J.M.W. Turner and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the area of outstanding natural beauty has attracted many eulogies and memorials over the last few centuries. It is also an area with a rich stone-working heritage – Purbeck Stone features in many cathedrals, cities, harbours, memorials with peak mining in the 13th Century. Stone is still quarried today and is the native stone used in many of the buildings. The landscape has influenced the mindscape of many poets, and their wordscape can be closely connected to the underlying geology. The Isle of Purbeck provides a perfect case study to map poetics to geology and discuss the expression of geopoetics as a means to open new worlds, and by linking the geological and cultural elements (re)discover a sense of wonder about our geoheritage and foster an appreciation of its values.
Patrick Corbett spent more than 40 years working in the oil and gas industry and academia. First, after graduating in Geology as a mudlogger working on the North Sea rigs, then later working for an oil company in Aberdeen, Netherlands and Indonesia. He left the industry to do a PhD at Heriot-Watt and stayed there for 31 years, retiring in 2020 as a Professor of Petroleum Geoengineering, Senate and Court member (Governing bodies of the University). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Assistant Director of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics.
Just prior to retiring he took up writing in poetry, following in the footsteps of his father. His subject matter drew on his retirement pastime of walking the coast of the UK, its birds, its scenery inspired by a University career in petroleum science and engineering. He discovered that he was walking in the footsteps of Kenneth White and the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics and was pleased that his first published poem, “Industria Cumbria” in The New European in February 2020, could be dedicated to Kenneth White, the founder of the International Centre for Geopoetics. Seeing that geologists and poets shared many aspects – use of imagination, reading and writing of words and images, interpreting the blank spaces, communication of feelings – he set up Geopoetry 2020, a well-received, online meeting in which poets broadly interested in geoscience – and geoscientists interested in poetry – could share their work. He is a Board Member of the Scottish Poetry Library and is interested in broadening the role of poetry in science education.
Examples of Patrick’s work can be found at www.geopoetrick.co.uk
John Gordon is an Honorary Professor in the School of Geography and Sustainable Development at the University of St Andrews. He has worked in geoconservation for many years and is a deputy chair of the Geoheritage Specialist Group of thev IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. His interests include geoconservation, the links between geoheritage, geotourism and cultural heritage, the glacial history and landforms of Scoitland, and mountain glaciers and glaciation.