We invited poets to write a piece inspired by the extraordinary, unusual, and beautiful objects in our collection. In response to our invitation, we received 50 outstanding poems, all incredibly creative and also considered, heart-breaking and funny.
You can read our finalists’ poems below. Thanks to everyone who participated this year – it made selecting our final list for publication quite hard.
The poems cover topics from purpose, love, and an elephant’s booties, to jiggers and orthodontics.
Each poem has a link through to the object which inspired the poem. Why not click through to have an explore of our Collection. You can also explore our collection using our online tools, Random Object Generator or Never Been Seen, which highlights objects not seen by the public before.
Happy National Poetry Day 2022!
Culpeper Microscope by Sarah M Davies
Why are you looking at me?
You should be looking through me.
I am your magic portal.
I can show you the secrets hidden
In the tiniest fragments of your world.
I am not for looking at.
I am not beautiful or bejewelled.
I am function over form.
I have a job to do
I can help you make sense of all the
Wonders of your world.
So why are you looking at me?
I am simple.
I am old and worn.
I am for using.
A piece of a laboratory.
So why are you looking at me?
Copyright © Sarah M. Davies, 2022
Never Been Seen by Glyn Morgan
A carbon arc lamp, bright, brilliant.
Brass and glass, delicately resilient,
It lights no more the Georgian dusk,
Collected now, in nation’s trust.
A bleeding bowl, pewter black,
used on patients some time back.
Emptied out of reddened gore,
Medical ways we see no more.
‘A sad complaint for man and beast’:
An elephant with tender feet.
Ranee with her bootees on,
Gentlest giant, the saddest song.
Copyright © Glyn Morgan, 2022
Indented Lines by Amaan Hyder
For the mouth,
a mouthful to tame
the unsightly, over-
eagerness of skull.
behind lips. I mouth
recall years of braces
until I was aligned, even
more sure of my swerve.
That I did not fit.
Copyright © Amaan Hyder, 2022
Analogue camera by Cat Caie
I love the last photograph that we took together.
There’s a storm ready to rage behind us.
Yet, we look so happy,
oblivious of the future.
But, the clouds are nearing
and my hands are slipping…
A sky coated in clouds,
no moon in sight
and the love,
the love that was once there
has lost its fight.
The love that was once there
is stuck within
the last photograph.
Copyright © Cat Caie, 2022
Jigger by Emilie Lauren Jones
My millennial brain can’t be sure what you’re for,
strange bug sending messages
across the world.
Lying on your back,
wiggling legs play with air.
Your coiled heart constructs songs,
Stay singing, little bug
beneath the oscillating clouds.
Copyright © Emilie Lauren Jones, 2022
‘But Not Always’ by Garrath Wilson
Blue fields for grazing,
In rolling meadows of spray,
Bound, but not always.
Copyright © Garrath Wilson, 2022
A637528 Rectangular tortoiseshell snuff box by Carole Bromley
I was that tortoise. Or, rather, that turtle.
A hawksbill caught off Madagascar.
They didn’t want my meat, it was my shell
that was so prized. I could have been
a jewellery box, a piece of fine furniture,
a picture frame. But I was killed
for this. To be a box containing snuff,
a box not even on display, hinge damaged,
the silver pins on my lid hidden from view,
my contents sniffed up a rich man’s nostril.
If you open the lid you can smell it.
Don’t. Imagine me as I was, huge, magnificent,
so innocent I was easy to catch, to throw
on my back in a small boat, my claws
frantically paddling. I dream of blue water.
I dream of bright fishes, green reeds,
sunlight above those white, white, waves.
Copyright © Carole Bromley, 2022
Old Soul by Hayden Loralye Hathaway
Close to a hundred and fifty years ago I stood firm. My wood and metal insides blanketed by worn leather, pulled taught and nailed many times over.
The poorest children were saddled with me. Economical, long lived and practical.
I was traded for larger shoes and handed down again to a smaller child.
Together we marched along through filth and poverty, never faltering. Always moving forward.
Carrying the child’s small feet, we traversed the dank, wet, putrid and sodden slums seeking food and clothing to cover the poorest of children’s little bodies.
The floors of work houses heard the din each day, hours upon hours as hundreds of shoes like me tapped out a sort of code with each movement on the cracked and aged wood floors.
Help me… I’m tired and hungry. Cold and afraid.
I’m a very old soul. Worn each day concealing chapped and dirty little feet. There was no other choice to be made. A child did what they were told or starved.
I’m a old soul and throughout my time I have had many little feet take refuge with in my sturdy hard base. I cradled them as best I could.
An old soul such as I has been a part of life’s story. Life, sickness and death. Dreams, hopes all dashed against the rocks leading to the sea.
I have existed as have hundreds of other souls just like me. All of us tired, worn, threadbare and old, seeking respite for the child who faithfully wore us. For, they too have become old souls just as we are.
Copyright © Hayden Loralye Hathaway, 2022
Tracing a Mystery by Madeleine E. Vaughan
When I look at your surface
Pockmarked and aglow
I trace each crater carefully
For a shape that I know
A rabbit, or a man,
A Lady, or a toad
A silvery palace
Left to erode
A face that waxes,
And a face that wanes,
And pulls glittering tides
Over long, sandy straits.
Yet though I have traced you
Onto paper with pen
Your other side illudes me
Time and again.
My nightly companion
from first to final breath
Was a mystery at my birth
And is a mystery at my death.