Enquiremanchester’s Weblog

The Manchester Museum is the lead museum in the North West Manchester cluster in a national project about art and learning for engage called ‘enquire’

Poems and Museums December 8, 2009

As part of our Magpie Speaking and Listening project for Secondary Schools we’re planning on including an element of poetry and wanted to link this with the museum visit.  A call out to Manchester Museum staff and members of Poets on Fire online forum for poem suggestions met with an over-whelming response.  Whilst we can’t use all these suggestions within our current project, I thought this would make a fantastic archive for potential future projects/visits/work… So here’s the list (in no particular order)… feel free to add to it with your comments!  Please note I haven’t followed up on all these recommendations so please add your own links or corrections by commenting on this post.


The Magic Box by Kit Wright

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Ozymandias (also known as On A Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below) by Horace Smith

In a Museum by Thomas Hardy

Relic by Ted Hughes

The Old Curiosity Shop

The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford by James Fenton (features in a book by Suzanne Keane called Fragments of the World)

Fragments of the world also includes:

– Flea Market by John Fuller

– Poetry by Saadi Youssef

– The Treasure and the Dragon, a short extract from Beowulf

The Crystal Cabinet by William Blake

Ode to a Grecian Urn by John Keats

Winter Quarters by Pete Didsbury

The British Museum by Peter Didsbury in Scenes from a Long Sleep

The Chambered Nautilus by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809 – 1894)

The Room of Saints and Virgins by Jean Sprackland in her collection, Hard Water.

The Natural History Museum by Kate Clanchy published in her collection Samarkand.

Museum Piece by Richard Wilbur

The Dolls Museum in Berlin by Eavan Boland

Archaic Torso of Apollo by Rainer Maria Rilke

Subject by Kate Potts (about a medical museum in her t-l Pilot pamphlet)

The Jade Corridor by Richard Marggraf Turley in his Salt collection

Museum of the Forest by Matthew Francis

In the Wedding Museum in The Book of Love

Red Rackham’s Treasure by Lavinia Greenlaw

An Ovaltine Tin… by Paul Farley in Bum on Fire

The Sea Cabinet by Catriona O’Reilly

Natural History by Kate Bingham in Quicksand Beach

Into the Rothko Installation by Peter Redgrove
Musee des Beaux Arts by W H Auden
The British Museum Reading Room by Louis MacNeice

The Theological Museum by Paul Stubb from his 2005 Flambard collection of the same name

The Black Museum in David Harsent’s Selected

Fox in the National Museum of Wales by Robert Minhinnick

The Green-Handled Knife by Martyn Crucefix




Past Poetic Archaeology in the Poetry of W.B.Yeats and Seamus Heaney (2004) by Christine Finn

Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1995) by Kate Atkinson [fiction]

Selected by Lee Harwood includes a poem about his father and a museum

The American Poetry Wax Museum: Reality Effects, 1940-1990 by Jed Rasula

Recollections by Maureen Almond (produced during a residency at The Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle upon Tyne)

Other links:

A good search engine: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/search.htm…useum&x=39&y=11
A poetry competition: http://www.dlrcoco.ie/library/f02en.htm


One Response to “Poems and Museums”

  1. Kate Day Says:

    Pete Brown, our Head of Learning and Interpretation at Manchester Museum has also submitted the following poems:


    A dinosaur from the Industrial Age dreams of revolution
    pistons poised, waiting for the keeper
    to release the essence of its existence
    Almost silently, with a hiss not a boom
    it starts
    awake like the Kraken stirring dangerously in the gloom
    flinging off unwelcome idleness
    Anchored to the earth, the cylinders suck anxiously
    giant limbs stretch and slide
    on the nod
    thrust and glide
    setting the pace, chasing the gears
    bevelled teeth meshing neatly
    clicking slickly in amber grease
    oil pots swing and dip their gilded tops
    like medieval knights at full tilt

    That day my giddy eye tried to skip from rod
    through cam
    to spinning wheel and back
    but the motion made me reel in time
    mesmerized by the machine
    And if it hadn’t slowed
    to a
    I think I’d be there standing still.

    (Pete Brown 2006)


    Just today I asked myself:

    Why dinosaurs?

    Why, when under-fives can barely twist
    their tongues round Smith or Jones
    does Diplodocus trip so quickly off their lips?

    What’s the pull?

    Are we petrified
    like rooted rabbits
    trapped in the glare of a saurian stare
    lost in a fossil fantasy
    subdued by superlatives
    by the longest, tallest, heaviest, fiercest beasts
    that ever
    walked the earth?

    Maybe it’s just a sense of shadenfreude
    primeval sniggers handed on in pockets of genes
    recalling that the dinosaurs bit the dust
    proud of the fact that we
    the most intelligent animals
    that ever
    walked the earth
    are not extinct

    not yet

    (Pete Brown 2008)

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