Wednesday 7 November 2012

Read the walls

One recent Saturday morning when I popped open my feedreader, the following headline caught my eye: Cambridge University museums launch poetry 'renaissance'.

Poet Carol Duffy is leading an Arts Council-funded programme where ten poets will spend two-week residencies exploring Cambridge University's museums and collections and talking to staff, and writing poems to be presented in an anthology.

I got rather excited when I saw the headline, and then a little less excited as I read the article. But then I got SUPER excited when a friend sent me the following link via Twitter: Why We Should Treat Poetry Like Painting. In it, poet Linda Besner makes the call for museums of poetry; places where people can go, alone in or as families or on dates or whatever, and read the walls. Places that bring the physical experience of seeing art - that sense of occasion, of openness - to words. Rather than working to make poetry more of an everyday thing  (like the poems-on-public-transport kind of programme), Besner askswhy not treat it as 'high art' and put it into places that have the trappings (she is particularly interesting on the topic of curatorial explanations) that allow you to grapple with it on its own terms?

The above explanation makes the article sound rather earnest. It's not, really. It's exciting and inspiring and funny. It's hard to excerpt, because it's a lovely piece of writing, but here's a teaser:
Looking at Marie Antoinette’s hairbrush makes me hear the people shouting at the base of the guillotine, and Frida Kahlo’s paintings give me the feeling of being out in bright sunlight. In the same way, Irish writer Paul Muldoon’s “The Treaty” makes me feel woolly and tidy and sort of damp: “My grandfather Frank Regan, cross-shanked, his shoulders in a moult,/ steadies the buff/ of his underparts against the ledge of the chimney bluff/ of the mud-walled house in Cullenramer.” With many of my favourite poets, though, as with much contemporary art, the sensation is of a skimming, airy release from space and time. The dreaminess of galleries is in the visitor’s liberty to move from one immersive, transporting experience to another with plenty of gaps and white space in between for associative thought. 
I would love it if all major cities had a poetry museum, where you could go for a visit dressed up in your best all-black clothes. The poems would be widely spaced on clean white walls, big enough for four or five people at once to stand in front of them and read. You could go there on dates for the free Tuesday nights, and you could take your parents there when they came to visit. 


Anonymous said...

You might be interested in the Portuguese Language Museum - - an interesting example of a word-based museum.

Courtney Johnston said...

Thank you!

Helen Rickerby said...

I love the idea of a poetry exhibition! Better still, a permanent poetry gallery. My brain is turning.

Courtney Johnston said...

Holler if you'd like to turn brains together sometime :)

Helen Rickerby said...

I'd love to! I don't have the time to organise any kind of poetry exhibition just now, but I'd totally make the time to talk about it!

Courtney Johnston said...

Hah! You and me both. December. Let's chatter in December.