Fifty years ago today, just before 8.32 BST, the red hot Colombia command module, a metal seedpod with three parachutes attached, appeared in the blue sky and splashed upside down in the Pacific Ocean: Neil, Buzz and Michael were back.
It’s been a moon filled month and for a certified moon geek like me, who wrote her first poem about the moon in the weeks of excitement that summer in 1969, it has been a blast. First there was the fantastic Apollo 11 film directed by Todd Douglas Miller with all those superbly edited, never seen, never heard before clips. Wow! I said to a complete stranger as the credits rolled and he grinned, looking just as dazzled as I was. Then JoAnn Morgan instrumentation controller at the launch site was interviewed by Michelle Hussain on Radio 4. What a woman and what a story. Sadly a podcast is unavailable at the moment but here’s an NPR interview with her. And before and then and now there is moon poetry to inspire us. Silver by Walter de la Mare was the first poem to properly catch in my ear through the captivating sound of the Moon as she mysteriously ‘walks the night in her silver shoon’ casting magic everywhere. Then there was Judith Nicholls’ Moonscape drawing on the moon’s contradictory landscape: ‘no water flows from her Sea of Showers/no trees, no flowers fringe her Lake of Dreams’. I often wish I’d written that poem.
When I was teaching in secondary schools Morgan was one of my go-to poets. His Spacepoem 3: Off Course with its eerie, almost weightless fragments seem to drift, change and float together in different ways within the space of the poem: ‘the pitch black/the growing beard the floating crumb’. It always provoked a reaction in the classroom and still intrigues me today. A selection of Morgan’s space poems, along with Stanley Cook’s brilliant concrete poem Man on Moon and work by Jean Kenward, Michael Rosen, James Kirkup and many more appeared in the terrific Spaceways anthology (edited by John Foster, 1986, OUP) which I frequently used in school. More recently Carol Ann Duffy edited To the Moon, an anthology of Lunar Poems (2009, Picador). Her varied selection ranges from Sappho’s The Moon, and Tu Fu’s Full Moon through Thomas Hardy looking up from his writing to see ‘the moon’s full gaze on me’ and Alice Oswald’s exquisite Moon Hymn. Imtiaz Dharker’s delightful Speech Balloon is also included with its millions of happy people who have left this world because they are ‘over the moon’. This year Brian Moses and James Carter have brought out their gorgeous Spaced Out anthology (2019, Bloomsbury) with poems of all shapes and sizes. It’s a brilliant little book for space freaks and school holidays. I am thrilled that they have included my poem Perseids alongside work by Judith Nicholls, Valerie Bloom, Liz Brownlee and so many other poets I admire. May the moon you always be with you.