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Writing About Objects & Artworks

Dominic Symes, Curator

What inspires us to write poetry? Love? Death? Sometimes it is, as Wordsworth said, the ‘spontaneous overflow of feeling’ that brings us to poetry. But not always. For me, I often find I’m most inspired to write in response to an object, or an artwork. I don’t sit and wait for the muses to descend, but I just focus my attention on what is in front of me and start writing. There is something fascinating about the history of that object, what it might have meant to someone else, what it might say if it were given the opportunity to talk that excites me. As an exercise I have run many times with Creative Writing students, focusing one’s creative gaze on an object or an artwork is a great way to unlock the imaginative potential of a writer without necessarily having to delve into those dark places that poetry can sometimes take us. I believe that inspiration rarely requires huge events. The objects in the collection are curious and improbable. They come from vastly different eras and from all of the many departments of the university. Anyone can write a poem about love and death, but can you write a poem about a microscope? A nurses gown? A colour chart? That’s what I’m eager to find out. This project is not concerned with poems being of any particular form or genre. The poem could be in the shape of the object itself, it could be a dialogue across the page, or it could be more conventionally left aligned. The speaker in the poem might be the object itself, someone who once used the object, or you encountering the object. Like the poet Michael Aiken shows in Maiastra, (which is available to read below) different views of the same object can exist simultaneously in the same poem. The possibilities are endless. The poems in this project are both interpretations of and responses to the objects and artworks in the collection, but by proxy they become a stand in for the object itself in our newly created Museum of Words.

List of Poets and Poems

Michael Aiken — Maiastra

Dominic Symes — For Mica

Braden Palmer — A Mind Out of Place

Em König — Redress

Paul Turley — After the War

University Library

Barr Smith Library
The University of Adelaide


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