I put together a podcast full of the poems from my Residency, plus lots of music and comedy clips about the Romans, for Apples and Snakes. Have a listen!
My work at Canterbury Roman Museum is coming to a close, and I’m busy finishing up the poems I’ve written over the course of the project. I’ll be turning them into a downloadable audio tour of the museum, and hopefully a short pamphlet too.
In the meantime, I’ve been working with the Corinium Museum in Cirencester, who commissioned me to write in response to their ‘Food for Thought’ exhibition – including one about this fine cockerel found in Cirencester! Check out the new poems here.
Here are a couple more poems from participants who came to the Museum Drop-In writing session I ran in January. I’ve had some lovely feedback about the session, so I’m arranging for another one to happen soon! Someone said: “I had some preconceptions on what poetry has to be before I came to the workshop. However, I found the whole process inspiring and a fascinating way to engage with the artefacts of the museum.”
I shared David Walsh’s fantastic mosiac-maker poem a while ago, so today we have pieces from Kate Fox and Stephen Young. First up, Kate’s prayer to Pomona for her garden, and then Stephen’s short piece on a Roman genius. Enjoy!
To open this invocation
I pray to you Janus,
revered Roman god of beginnings,
for this year in the garden.
Would it please plenteous Pomona,
goddess of gardens and orchards,
to watch over my own tiny crop?
Let my fuchsias have a future,
let my roses bloom in May.
Keep lettuce, chard and tomatoes
safe from ravenous gastropods.
Keep my herbs redolently fragrant
as back in Roman times.
Rosemary, sage, lavender, marjoram,
perfuming my garden with a heady haze.
So I pray to you Pomona,
for a year of sun and rain.
Let my hanging baskets bloom and cascade over,
let my violas and pansies play.
In return Pomona,
I bring you the fruit of my labour,
for your favour.
My crop I share with you
and all the garden creatures.
Let the resident birds and squirrels,
passing butterflies and busy bees,
bask in the summer time abundance.
So I dedicate this prayer to you Vesta,
goddess of the home and hearth.
May my green fingers continue
and my suburban garden be your shrine.
Genius protector of the home,
company to those alone.
hold to the chest, hold fast,
small figure for the hand to grasp.
oxidized by time,
once in a Roman family shrine.
Genius, protector who’s always there,
so I can hand over my daily care.
I ran a writing drop-in session at Canterbury Roman Museum last Wednesday, where people were free to join me in creating some Roman artefact-inspired poems. David Walsh (who joined me on the very first leg of my walk from London to Canterbury back in September) dropped in, and wrote up his experience here. He links this creative exercise to ‘cognitive archeology‘ and says that:
Suddenly, the tools of the mosaic layer (my pick) weren’t just objects behind a glass screen – I had a whole idea of where this guy had come from, why he was in that occupation, and how he felt about the art he was creating. Some academics might be cynical of such an approach, but when you spend a lot of time looking at sites and finds, it’s easy to forget these were real people. […] it is a fun, interesting way of experiencing the past. What I really loved is how some of the others present, who were not archaeologists or poets, embraced this idea and went away with a new interest in both the arts and ancient world.
Here’s a poem David wrote, inspired by a mosaic tool and ending with an excellent punchline:
Hours pass as if only seconds
I barely notice the sweat across my brow
Locked so intently in my task
I do not see Orpheus
I see myself, the colours and shapes like a mirror
I do not feel the weight of the tools
They are my hands, my finger tips
This is my epitaph to the world
A piece of myself that will remain
When the rest of me has long since departed
The art will linger on to inspire
Like the words of Cicero
The theatre of the Flavians
The Wall of Hadrian
My name will be forever be written in the tessera
… and I’m sure no-one will notice the mistake.
David’s also been helping me get my facts right in a poem about Mithraism, which I will be reading at MOLA’s event to celebrate the oral history project about the discovery of the Temple of Mithras in London. Can’t wait!
After my walk from London to Canterbury, I will be properly in-residence at Canterbury Roman Museum on Wednesday 21 January! I’ll be writing new poems inspired by the walk and artefacts all day at the Museum between 10am and 4pm – and you can join me!
Drop in any time to explore the artefacts and perhaps even write a poem. No need to book – just bring a pen and some enthusiasm!
Hope to see you there!
A quick update about what next for my residency at Canterbury Roman Museum. Now that I’ve walked to the Museum, it’s time be actually be in residence in the building itself!
On Wednesday 21 January I’ll be spending the day in the museum, writing new poems. It’ll be a drop-in session, so if anyone fancies doing a bit of writing then they will be welcome to join me! This new material will go into the development of a poetic walk around Canterbury and the Museum, exploring artefacts and history through poems.
I’ll be running that walk live, and also recording an audio version for people to download and follow themselves. I’m also hoping to turn the poems into a booklet that can be sold in the Museum shop. In the meantime, I’ll post bits and bobs up on this website.
Look out for more details as and when things happen!
One of the aims of the Residency is to engage the public with research. To that end, Ray Laurence – Professor of Roman History and Archaeology at the University of Kent, who instigated this whole project – has taken one of my poems and added hyperlinks to interesting stuff.
So here’s a previous Residence poem redone with extra depth – read and click through! Want to add a relevant link? Send a comment or a message!
Bring me that wood
and I will show you a wonder
a way to bend the world
to our will.
We are masters of this domain
no river will stop us
Nature’s forcefully flung weapons
no match for our ingenuity.
Build me a bridge.
Build me a bridge
and I will show you an empire
an idea realised
in support pole and path.
The glory of Rome.
III – Power and Propaganda
The glory of Rome
hangs from the bridge
a banner rustling in the breeze
proclaiming all is well.
Thoughts of rebellion die
in front of this display of power
confronted by superior force
they are useless.
Throw them away.
IV – River Offerings
The river has it now
your humble offerings cast away
the votive to your god
its sacred course set.
Pray they won’t abandon you.
V – Battles
Pray they won’t abandon you
those you call your brothers
in arms, in battle
as you face your enemy.
On the other bank
readying his weapons
preparing the charge.
Hope it doesn’t come down to this:
the tactic of last resort
a desperate measure
but the commander’s cry goes up: