International Poetry day is coming up on 21st of March, making this the perfect opportunity to look at some of the creative output that has been inspired by Manchester Museum and its collections.
Museums have always been renowned as places for learning and research, but they are also places of wonder, entertainment, and inspiration for all kinds of output for creativity.
“We preserve the past, define the present and educate for the future. Our collections present the material evidence of the creativity of humankind and the riches of the natural world; they inspire, enthrall and enlighten. We are a mirror to our own times and illuminate developments in our culture and society. We offer a place of education, community, discovery and reflection, a shelter from the pressures of our daily lives, and inspiration for our inner beings.”
The museum is a place where the artist can hone their skill, by understanding the anatomy of nature, both inside and out. A place where graphic designer, potter and sculptor can trace back their skills to antiquity, and learn from the enduring familiarity of pattern, form and symbol. And it is a place where writers, songwriters and poets can become enthralled in the stories both ancient and modern, of journeys, of people, of places, and of the passage of time …
Poetry is an art form that predates the written word; the ancient stones of ancient people silently store the memory of ancient verses, songs and voices … And in the circular way of things and time, these ancient objects, people and faces, are the subject of inspiration themselves – for writers and artists, painters and poets, who walk through the halls of beasts and birds and painted pots – filled with wonder enough to paint the world in poetry and song once again.
Our featured artists range from students, visitors and museum staff to published poets – Helen Clare, Anthony Parker, Cat Lumb, María José Ramos acevedo, Sam Illingworth, and Daniel Bye.
Ancient Worlds at Manchester Museum (Photo: Victoria Hadyn via Flickr – Manchester Museum)
We came from somewhere and now we are not there –
we journeyed across the miles, the centuries
and over the strange lands of our own lives,
sometimes with nothing more than our names, our faces –
the death mask, the label and the few things
we fastened to ourselves with buckles we crafted
from iron or gold. We pinned ourselves
to the world around us by our naming of it.
We remembered ourselves in the stories
we shared, in wolves and forests.
Like tea or cotton we belonged not to the land,
the trader, the user, but to ourselves, though collected
and dispersed. Alongside dodos, tree-frogs, moths,
we belonged to places and the place changed.
We carried the few coins it seemed we owned
until they left our hands for the hands of others.
We made ourselves in things, in the guard for a sword,
in paper, in gold. We watered crops, collected butterflies,
heard ourselves in bird song, and caged the birds.
We became the coin, the buckle, the dagger.
We made sanctuary for small pulsing amphibians
in tanks. We try, somehow, to hold the world
together, with small buckles and bandages as we bind
our dispersing bodies with cloth. We buried our coins
and our dead to keep them close. We named the place.
But we are always leaving, like exhibits in crates,
cases lying empty, waiting for work to be done –
until it seems that where was never the thing at all.
Helen is a freelance writer an poet in Manchester, and was Manchester Museum’s poet-in-residence for 2016. During this residency she has led workshops which included the creation of ‘poemlets’, and activities to facilitate using the collection as inspiration for creative writing.
Helen’s poetry collection Mollusc was published by Comma press in 1994. Her poems have also appeared in magazines including The North, The Rialto, Ambit and The Manhattan Review and have won prizes in the Arvon and London Writers Competitions.
Have a look at the processes Helen used to create the poem ‘Belonging’ on the Curator’s blog, Entomology Manchester.
Fragment of red granite statue of Ramesses II (No.: 1784), Ancient Worlds, Manchester Museum (Photo: Victoria Hadyn via Flickr – Manchester Museum)
Stolen from a distant land,
A victim of imperialist hands,
His stony gaze commands
Attention, awe, wonder.
They come to worship this titan
Bemused by the adoration of a group of thieves,
An ambassador of the past,
Once again he commands all he sees,
This would be god,
Anthony is a writer, poet and teacher. He has published three books, including a collection of contemporary poetry on a variety of themes from nature, stained glass, to social justice – a journey through his thoughts, passions and imagination.
Anthony performed several of his poems inspired by the Ancient Worlds collection at a recital during the museum’s ‘Gifts for the Gods’ Animal Mummies After Hours event at Manchester Museum.
“I’ve been fascinated with ancient Egypt for years since I first saw the mummies in the museum. For a child growing up in Manchester, this seemed alien to me and has captivated me ever since. After seeing the animal mummies exhibit I was inspired to write and honoured to be asked to perform my poems at the event!”
– Anthony Parker
Spice boxes (0.9323/254), Manchester Gallery, Manchester Museum (Photo: Michelle Scott)
Some things are not made for blood,
Sharp and clean, now used for good.
The owner, once a feared man, lost in history, all but gone.
Cultures clashing: a pinch of spice for everyone.
A thing of beauty: look at me.
Come slowly closer, what might you see?
A forgotten daughter, parents and abandoned son,
Cultures clashing: a pinch of spice for everyone.
Cat is Secondary and Post-16 Learning Coordinator at Manchester Museum. She has a passion for using the museum’s collection to inspire students, including photography exhibitions and many creative programmes, including the ‘Art of Identity’ project.
Peruvian vessel (0.9707/7), Living Cultures, Manchester Museum. (Photo: Michelle Scott)
THE HUG (FROZEN BY FIRE)
We are almost crude material
As row is our love
Frozen by fire
Nothing can destroy us anymore
We come from Earth
Caring hands shaped us
Bare feet stepped the dust dancing around
I built with your arms my house
We were powerful in a far-off land
I was the Moon
You were the Sun
But a strange god banned us from our people´s hearts
It was an era of running horses and bearded men
Eating gold with bloody teeth
We had to turn our backs on cataclysm
Only in your eyes I could find peace
We come from clouds
We left with tears
The ocean has saved us
In our journey to eternity
Let´s hide behind a glass
Here is our paradise
Let´s get a bit closer
Listening to the rain
It took an empire
But let me tell you the story of a love
Frozen by fire
María José Ramos acevedo
María José is a member of the Visitor Team at Manchester Museum. She was inspired by one of the objects in the Living Cultures Gallery, a Peruvian figure vessel (0.9707/7).
The white-bodied peppered moth. (Photo: Olaf Leillinger via Wikimedia Commons)
The Peppered Moth
Arising from our ashen pit of toil,
As forge and mill did shape this unkempt land;
The blackness of the trees from coal and oil,
Contrasted with the skin nature had planned.
A single, fragile pearl encased in jet,
Your pallor marked you out for all to see;
In contrast to our progress, blood and sweat,
Your population had no industry.
And then from deep within you came a switch,
We came across your shadow in the sky;
Your alabaster pelt had turned to pitch,
Forced to adapt so that you would not die.
I wonder if we ever get it right,
Will you turn back from darkness into light?
Sam is a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University, with a background in the atmospheric sciences and expertise in public engagement and outreach. His research involves using different media (such as a poetry and theatre) to empower society with scientific skills and learning.
A number of Sam’s theatrical works have been performed in the UK, including by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), and he has performed my poetry across the UK at numerous spoken word festivals and events, including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Manchester Science Festival.
1. How many Gods can you find in this room
How many Gods can you find?
How many Gods have been numbered and tagged
How many Gods left behind?
Marks in the marble, statues that move
Cracks that appear in the floor
Reason and science with something to prove
Earthquake or thunder or war?
Or is it the Gods, the Gods, the Gods…?
So many Gods
2. Fairy arrows, thunderbolts
Falling as rain from the sky
Power collected in cowry shells
Twins who will never die
3. Goddess of smallpox, goddess of earth
God of travel and trade
How many gods have descended from heaven
How many gods are man-made?
4. We name them and praise them, mould them to suit
Mythic and angry and old
And one day we’ll realise we are all gods
With the power to change the whole world
©Words: Daniel Bye
©Music: Boff Whalley
Wonderstruck was a musical collaboration organised by People United – a pioneering arts charity which brings people together through the arts. In 2015, In association with Manchester Museum, People United asked writer Daniel Bye, musician Boff Whalley and director Sarah Punshon to explore the theme of ‘Wonder’.
Inspired by the museum’s collections, and how visitors and staff respond to them, the artists set off on a journey to illuminate how we experience and care for the world around us. Words were written in response to the collections. These words became lyrics and these lyrics were turned into songs. A range of choirs took part performing the songs across the museum in hour-long promenade performances linked by spoken word. This was Wonderstruck.
Find out more about the project at peopleunited.org.uk
The poet weaves words like the rich tapestry of form and function, with infinite possibilities for the expression of meaning and emotion.
If you’ve been inspired, and would like to have a go at writing poetry about the objects and galleries at Manchester Museum, let us know how you get on …
Later in the year we’re planning to publish some more poems crafted with a connection to our collection!