Tag Archives: museums

New Work

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Microscopic image of skin cells

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Ben Freeth’s sound and light installation

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Ahren Warner’s scrolling prosimetrum

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Tom Schofield’s interactive ‘skin-covered’ construction

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Kate Sweeney’s photographic Still Life

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My new prose poem bound as a book

(an extract on the left hand side of the first image here)

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Natural History Museum, Sofia

 

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Medicinal Herbarium

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On the fourth floor of the National Museum

of Natural History, leaves and stems and dried

flower heads of native plants are arranged with pins,

coded and labelled, on painted boards – Verbena

officinalis, Adonis vernalis. Some

are as old as I am, all colour drained out of them

as they dessicate and curl. But there is beauty

in their withering, as if these were the bones

of Bulgaria’s flowers, their skeletons. Inside

their glass cases, they tell of loss – and what heals,

what’s worth preserving. Many I recognise, stirred by

a ghost of blue or an elegant thorn, old friends –

Centaurea cyanus, our cornflower,

and Leonurus cardiaca, motherwort.

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Frosted panes diffuse the brunt of the sun. Silence

plays across the chessboard floor. Other visitors

prefer the drama downstairs of bats and bears,

tigers and eagles, in stricken poses stilled

according to a taxidermist’s whim. Pilgrim

here, I’m more moved by this room of flowers than

the Russian church next door, for all the almond-eyed saints

blessing its walls. I’ve come to ask not for my own soul

to be saved but these tissue refugees, precious

plants – their natural physick, an esperanto

of seed, rib, heart and vein – Laburnum vulgare,

Carlina acanthifolia. Hear my confession,

my sins: irredeemable gravity, this passion

for what can’t be bought or sold, a faith in silence.

 

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Another display, devoted to mountain plants,

shows four Vitosha tulips clinging to what’s left

of their green and gold. A recent addition – faint

sign someone still thinks they’re worth saving: more

hope in a speck of pollen than our whole poisoned

anthropocene world. Trollius europaeus.

Today they can’t help looking like an epitaph.

 

As I leave, descend, all the creatures in the ark

follow me, eyes black with hunger, blame. Beneath

my feet, great cracks in the marble floor are spreading;

a deep fault that can only widen and slide right

open, taking us all down with it – animal,

vegetable and mineral, the country’s biggest

ammonite and its tiniest flake of stolen moon.

  vitosha tulips

9th July 2016

 

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The Garden in Winter

A weekend in London and a visit to the wonderful Garden Museum

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Tucked away next to Lambeth Palace, the Museum is housed in a converted church.  The 16th century plant hunters, gardeners and collectors, John Tradescant the Elder (c.1570-1638) and Younger (1608-1662), are buried in an ornate tomb in the garden.  Apparently they used to have a small botanical museum in the area, which they called the Ark.

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At this time of year everywhere’s rather bare and back to the bone, but I look forward to returning to see it during the summer.  The knot garden and its surrounds are planted with species introduced by the Tradescants – such as the scarlet runner bean, red maple and tulip tree – and many others grown by them in their Lambeth garden.

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A great way to spend a winter Saturday, looking at old spades and hoes, mowers and watering cans!  Lots of quaint adverts reflecting changes in horticultural fashions.

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As well as the permanent collection, there was also an exhibition of art inspired by gardens over the centuries.  I found a lovely book in the shop recording Charlotte Verity’s year as Artist in Residence – beautiful, delicate paintings and drawings.

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I envied her the chance to observe the changing seasons in such a small but resonant space – time to go deep into it and let it go deep inside her.  I felt something like that during my time at Moorbank.  Looking more widely now at a range of different gardens, I am missing that sense of a clear boundary.  Poetry for me works best in sharp focus, in miniature.  The absences associated with winter also make for a certain spareness just now.  Perhaps the turn of the Solstice will shift things…

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What Love is Like in Winter

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