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February 10, 2012

The Story of The Writers’ Room Deep Space Telescope

In its new home

See that telescope in the middle of this photograph?

This powerful Russian telescope, currently on loan to The Writers’ Room at Warwick University, has been on a fascinating literary journey.

In the early 1990s it was acquired by the poet Simon Armitage. Scanning the night skies above his native Huddersfield, Simon began writing a sequence of fifty poems. The titles were taken from the constellations he observed through this telescope’s lenses. However, his poems did not take stellar observation as subject. Cunningly, Simon used the names of the stars and their configurations to stimulate personal poems about family, relationships, work and loss. These poems were published in his collection Cloudcuckooland which he read from at Warwick University in 1999.

During the early part of the 21st century, Simon sold the telescope to the novelist Monique Roffey. Monique was then working as Centre Director of the Arvon Foundation at Totleigh Barton in Devon. Monique used the telescope to examine the brilliantly dark skies of Devon and gain inspiration.

The telescope occupied the Arvon Foundation offices for many years, sometimes being used to prompt poetry and stories during the weekly creative writing courses that took place at the centre. Many writers pass through the doors of Arvon at Totleigh; and hundreds of authors will have “played about with”, or used, this telescope during that fertile period in its journey. During this period David Morley taught a number of Arvon writing courses and greatly admired what he then christened the Armitagescope a.k.a. the Roffeyscope.

Later, Monique Roffey left Arvon and became a full-time writer, taking the telescope with her. She moved to central London , to the famous Black Sheep Co-op, and wrote the fiction (and non-fiction) that made her name and led her, later that decade, to become one of our most renowned and generous writers.

In 2005, Monique contacted David Morley to explain she was moving on to her own flat, and the telescope was too bulky to make the trip. It might have faced a sad end. So, Monique and DM arranged a ‘gift economy’ exchange: Monique wished to learn how to write poems with a little guidance from DM, and in exchange DM would adopt the telescope so long as he could somehow get to and through London , rebuild it and collect it. Which he did. One memorable rainy Sunday morning in Spring.

The telescope needed some TLC by this time. DM reconditioned the lenses, cleaned the scope inside and out, and gave it a coat of paint for good luck. The telescope then lived in DM’s writing studio for six years, making occasional sorties into his garden to study The Great Galaxy of Andromeda. These studies led to the creation of an elemental poetry workshop ‘Nightfishing for Poets’ which examines the universe and how various phenomena within it have acted as templates for the making of oral ‘literature’ in the shape of creation myths.

DM believes Warwick University's Writers’ Room is the natural home for this historical piece of literary-scientific equipment. It is not a theatre prop. It is not trivial. It is a powerful Russian. Deep space. Telescope.

And it can see the face of God.


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