Thresholds revisited…

In November last year I posted about Thresholds.  This project placed ten poets in ten Cambridge museums to meet researchers and explore the collections before writing poems inspired by the experience. The project is now complete and a website at contains details including links to the poets reading aloud.

My last few posts have reflected on the performance of poetry. It’s a different experience to listen to the Threshold poets reading from a broad selection of their work, but without the poems to look at – without the words on the page – it feels incomplete. I lose interest quickly. for me, listening is too transient.

The Poetry Archive site offers unique access to the voice and style of dead poets. I can ‘hear’ T S Eliot, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. But I also have their words to supplement the poetry process.  One of the images on the current Poetry Archive banner has the text ‘Poetry always begins and ends with listening.’ As Jung might say, this could be an example of ‘meaningful synchronicity.’

Thresholds are about opening doors and stepping through. Perhaps I need to explore my resistance to performance in more detail.

The Temple of Isis on the Island of Philae

Temple of Isis on the Island of Philae in Egypt, 2013.


Maintaining ‘Thresholds’

Thresholds is part of the University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas. Ten poets will each spend two weeks in residence at ten Cambridge museums early next year.  Here they will meet researchers and explore the collections before writing poems inspired by the experience.  The poets are and their residencies are:

  • Sean Borodale – Museum of Classical Archaeology;
  • Gillian Clarke – Museum of Zoology;
  • Imtiaz Dharker – Cambridge University Library;
  • Ann Gray – Cambridge University Botanic Garden;
  • Matthew Hollis – The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences;
  • Jackie Kay – Kettle’s Yard;
  • Daljit Nagra – Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology;
  • Don Paterson – Whipple Museum of the History of Science;
  • Joe Shapcott – The Polar Museum;
  • Owen Sheers – The Fitzwilliam Museum.

It sounds like a useful way of raising awareness of poetry but ten poets at ten museums across the country – with some publicly available workshops – would be far more effective.

Poetry is like philosophy in that it involves bringing together fundamental ideas and viewpoints on life. It needs to shake off its cloak of academia colours so it’s a shame Thresholds restricts all that poetic excellence in one place – which happens to be archetypically  academic anyway.