Museum of Zoology Blog

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Gillian Clarke’s reading and the Better-Late-Than-Never-Discoverer

15th March 2013 | 2 Comment(s) | Museum of Zoology

I had never set foot in The Museum of Zoology until a month ago, with my great nephew as ‘excuse’. I now cannot believe that I have walked past this and most of the other museums without a thought! That visit lingered on strangely; it tugged at corners of my non-scientific thinking in ways I was not able to explain. So when I saw that Gillian Clarke would be giving a poetry reading there in the context of Thresholds I was intrigued.

We sat in the atrium of the Lower Gallery of the Museum of Zoology. We were bathed in the mid-March sharp white light glancing from the soft yellow of the bones of extinct mammals – one could almost hear them sigh with patient relief “Ah! Here you are at last! What took you so long?”

Gillian Clarke began by saying how excited she, and the other poets in residence of the Cambridge Museums, had become by this exposure to “Science”. As an Arts graduate it was new to her! Something told me that the room was full of others to whom it was equally new – barring the Museum staff of course who stood around a mixture of proud and abashed at all this attention being paid to them and their work by ‘passers- by’! She (and we now too I suspect) glowed with the gratitude of the better-late-than-never-discoverer. She confessed her ‘greed’ for the riches of this new-found place and its task in the world today. The Giant Land Sloth from the Museum’s Darwin Collection may have nodded in paleolithic empathy from the far corner of the room.

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Throughout the recital, the poems (about her own life-long relationship with the natural world) recited as they were in the hearing of the bones, made vibrant but sometimes terribly sad connections in the heart and mind. This arts grad will want to come again, spend time with the bones… and no doubt wander across the road to the other Museum to connect with the Earth they knew and which I now definitely want to get to know!

There was just an indefinable magical something about hearing these wonderful poems in the context of this unique place in the presence of 8,000 year old bones (the Giant Land Sloth!)

How poetry can be used to break open the museum’s secrets to the ‘unscientific’ human heart is such a fantastic idea. I am sure that the ‘scientific’ heart has been no stranger to this all along! There absolutely have to be more of these events.

Thanks so much to all who thought of it and worked for it and did it! Bravo!


Anne Murray, Thresholds audience member

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Gillian Clarke at the Museum of Zoology

22nd January 2013 | 0 Comment(s) | Museum of Zoology

It’s a powerful silence, here in the exhibition hall of the Museum of Zoology. About me is the alphabet of life, the fossils and bones of a story, creatures pressed like fine engravings in stone, the skeleton of a 62 foot fin-whale, a wasp too small to see without a glass. A class of shouting children just passed through, and not even my favourite ichthyosaur stirred its beautiful bones. The past is behind glass. I hope poetry can find the spell to open it.

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