Young Curators club – week 3: The Power of Poetry

Written by Shosha Adie


This week was unique, in that it was a matter of explaining, learning and doing. It was a session where the students had to think very deeply about the materials in front of them, to connect their objects to the objects in the collection they had chosen from the catalogue. The speaker this week was Toni-Ann, who is doing a masters in creative writing. At the moment, she is making a poetry collection for her dissertation, which she describes as quite personal, and about heritage, but also very abstract. For her, one of the great things about poetry is that the individual gets to decide what they take from it. In this session, she takes the students through the description of objects, which she would say is “As hard as describing an emotion.” She elaborates on this by saying that despite the fact you can describe an objects material, “you can’t describe its owner and its history in 3D.” One object Toni- Ann had chosen was small figurine of a girl that needed to be held up by a stand, this fragility presented by the broken figure reminded her of a poem called ‘The Art of Losing’ from Elizabeth Bishops poetry collection ‘One Art’.


After looking at their objects from the collection, and the materials, colours and history in some cases, the history these artefacts were made up of, the students were inspired to write their own poems. Most of the student’s initial impressions of their objects was surprise, as they realised how big their UCL collection objects were in comparison to how they’d been presented in the catalogue. One student in particular had selected a Chinese opium box, as her own object was a chest of similar shape. When she first saw her object, she realised it was roughly four times the size of her own! Her poem was one of the favourites presented today;

“Illegal Substances becoming addictive,
No way to sleep or to go,
The colour red guiding to danger,
Sleeping outside with no manger.
The personality is mirrored as light is becoming shorter,
As the embroidery on the box slowly fades away.”

– Hafsa Ahmed –

Another favourite was a Haiku which presents a graphic image of the violence represented by his two objects, a knife and a pair of model war planes given to him by his grandpa.

“Weapons of Murder
Cause rivers to run red with
Blood, rage and fire
Stabbing and bombing
A plane and a huntsman’s knife
Can kill in one strike”

– Damien Daniels –

Speaking to Toni-Ann, who has worked as a librarian during her career, she tells me that these collections of objects are very different to collections of books; “I find houses for objects a little bit sad, because I feel like they should be out in their natural place… but books on a shelf. I kind of feel like this is their natural place. But the real, living, breathing objects, they are trapped on shelves.” Her time as a librarian was full of surprises, and she commends it highly; “Don’t get caught up in the whole stereotype of what a librarian is. I think a lot of people get caught up in the age aspect … and that they say ‘Shh’ all the time…but that’s so not what it’s about. There are so many kinds of libraries you can work in. So, the last job I had was working for ‘Think Tank’ for defence and security, and I was the sole librarian there. Literally any institute you can think of will have a librarian so it is a very diverse field.”
This session has left the Young Curators buzzing for the next session, as it has opened a new avenue of analysis; one not commonly considered for artefacts. They can now bring their objects to life with words, and engage with the materials an object is composed of in a deeper, more meaningful way.