Cambridge museums' poetry project under fire - Museums Association

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Cambridge museums’ poetry project under fire

Poet laureate's scheme linking poets with Cambridge collections lambasted by academics
A project organised by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy linking high-profile poets with University of Cambridge museums and collections has been heavily criticised by two of its academics.

The Thresholds scheme matches 10 poets, such as Don Paterson, Owen Sheers and Jackie Kay, with institutions such as the Whipple Museum of the History of Science and the Fitzwilliam Museum.

The poets will spend two weeks in residence at each institution from January to March next year. The 10 poems produced will then be published in the spring.

Drew Milne, Judith E Wilson lecturer in drama and poetry in the Cambridge English faculty, said: “The Thresholds project appears to have been inflicted upon Cambridge and the university without much reference to existing communities of poets and expertise in poetry, whether in the university or in Cambridge as a whole.”

Meanwhile, Ian Patterson of Queens’ College said: “The vision of poetry ‘interacting’ with parts of the university, its museums, collections, galleries and so on, implies a conception of poetry as somehow outside these areas of knowledge and discourse, which is, of course, absurd.

I regard this as ignorant, high-handed, thoughtless and insulting to those who have devoted large parts of their lives to fostering poetry in this university and in the city of Cambridge.”

But Liz Hide, University of Cambridge museums officer, defended the initiative. “We have been delighted with the public response to Thresholds,” she said. “This is a national project, curated by the poet laureate, which we actively sought out as an innovative way of reaching new audiences in Cambridge and beyond.”

She added that the project already involved two Cambridge poets, Kaddy Benyon and Kelley Swain, and would reach out to poetry organisations, schools and community groups in the local and wider community.

The cost of Thresholds is covered by an Arts Council England grant.

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