Literary Events at the Whipple: Poetry Workshop

On Thursday 29 October, the Whipple held its first creative writing workshop. Led by Katy Price, Melanie Keene and myself, the group of twelve explored ‘object stories,’ inspired by some beautiful and fascinating museum objects.

Discussing poems in the workshop

Many thanks to Sarah, Melanie, Katy & Steve for their workshop contributions!

We began by reading and discussing a few examples of short writing inspired by specific objects, and the different ways of describing or interpreting their stories.

Next, workshop guests were asked to consider one of three objects from the Whipple Collection, which were displayed specially on a central table within the circle of chairs.

A ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’ Globe, a Model mulberry, and a Ship-Shaped Sundial.

jigsaw globe
Jigsaw Puzzle Globe (photo: Whipple Collection)

After some discussion, we allowed for about 40 minutes of thinking and writing. A small amount of information was displayed beside each object, and if they wanted, the writers were able to access the further information on the Whipple website.

Once we had deliberated, chatted, written, crossed out, and considered, everyone bravely volunteered to share their work, either by reading out what they had written, or by explaining their thoughts and ideas as to what they wanted to do with the material.

There was a brilliant array of voice and creative imagery. Everyone seemed to come up with rich and interesting material, and they were invited to share their poems with me so I could post them on this blog, and possibly beside the museum objects themselves.

Model Mulberry (photo: Whipple Collection)

Daniel, co-coordinator of the Science and Literature Reading Group in the HPS department and workshop attendee, generously sent me his wonderful poem about the model mulberry:

MURE (Morus nigra, L.)
A smooth shiny base, turned like a chess piece,
Is the stage where this mulberry dances
A sumptuous papier-mâché fruit
Seducing us with sugary glances
Her stalk is set at a jaunty angle
Clothed in long stripes of dark green and lime green
The dark spots run through it like Brighton rock
Above it the bulbous fruit reposes
Dark red and black, exploding with sugar
Labels revealing the inner contents
Of the graine ouvertepéricarpe osseux,
The embryou lodged in its secret heart.
Daniel Friesner
Daniel and John with the workshop objects
Below are a few of the examples we read and discussed before launching into writing our own material:

The Turnip-Snedder by Seamus Heaney

Next, we looked at an excerpt, read brilliantly (with feeling!) by Simon: from Orhan Panuk, My Name is Red (faber and faber, 2001), pp. 124-125.

Chapter 19

I am a gold coin

Behold! I am a twenty-two-carat Ottoman Sultani gold coin and I bear the glorious insignia of His Excellency Our Sultan, Refuge of the World. Here, in the middle of the night in this fine coffee-house overcome with funereal melancholy, Stork, one of Our Sultan’s great masters, has just finished drawing my picture, though he hasn’t yet been able the embellish me with gold wash – I’ll leave that to your imagination. My image is here before you, yet I myself can be found in the money purse of your dear brother, Stork, that illustrious miniaturist… Hello, hello, greetings to all the master artists and assorted guests. Your eyes widen as you behold my glimmer, you thrill as I shimmer in the light of the oil lamp, and finally, you bristle with envy at my owner, Master Stork. …

… I take pride in being recognised as a measure of talent among artists and in putting an end to unnecessary disagreements. …

            Before I arrived here, I spent ten days in the dirty sock of a poor shoe-maker’s apprentice. Each night the unfortunate man would fall asleep in his bed, naming the endless things he could buy with me. The lines of this epic poem, sweet as a lullaby, proved to me that there was no place on Earth a coin couldn’t go.

            Which reminds me. If I recited all that happened to me before I came here, it’d fill volumes. There are no strangers among us, we’re all friends; as long as you promise not to tell anyone, and as long as Stork Effendi won’t take offense, I’ll tell you a secret. Do you swear not to tell?

            All right then, I confess. I’m not a genuine twenty-two-carat Ottoman Sultani gold coin minted at the Chemberlitash Mint. I’m counterfeit. They made me in Venice using adulterated gold and brought me here, passing me off as twenty-two-carat Ottoman gold. Your sympathy and understanding are much obliged. …

Later in the workshop, we had a great discussion about the poem The Still Lives of Appliances by Rebecca Elson.

One Reply to “Literary Events at the Whipple: Poetry Workshop”

  1. For me what made this workshop enjoyable was the readiness of the participants to try new things and to share their rough drafts – which were all very impressive. I also thought it was great having 2 younger people there, whose imagination and straightforward approach were inspiring. Thanks Kelley, Melanie and all involved!

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