British Museum blog

Winning Words spoken at the British Museum

British Museum curator, Richard Parkinson looking at a tomb-painting


Richard Parkinson, curator, British Museum

Curators are often requested for media appearances, but not always in the way they might expect. The Museum was recently approached about participating in Winning Words, a project by the Forward Arts Foundation about creating short films of a cross section of Britons reading inspiring poems, to enhance people’s lives through poetry as part of the Cultural Olympiad 2012. I happen to work on Ancient Egyptian poetry, and particularly on how such works can be performed, doing for example ‘experimental philology’ sessions at an academic conference with the actress and novelist Barbara Ewing. Poetry lies at the heart of my research and because Sian Toogood, the Museum’s Broadcast assistant knew this, she approached me.

The poem I was asked to read was ‘Leisure’ by the Welsh poet W. H. Davies (1911 AD), with the famous opening couplet ‘What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?’. I must admit that the poem does not appeal to me in terms of style, but every academic would applaud its sentiment about time, as the lack of time for research is always the hardest part of our daily experience.

Sian and I suggested that the filming could be done in Gallery 61, with the famous Ancient Egyptian wall-paintings from the tomb-chapel of Nebamun (1325 BC). The importance of looking and staring at them was central to the concept of the gallery, and we thought that various details of the paintings could relate to the poem’s mentions of trees, cows and female beauty. Both the poem and the paintings express the wonder of experiencing the world around us, despite their different cultures and dates.

The film crew arrived before the galleries open to the public, and were a joy to work with; the whole session took about 20 minutes. ‘Leisure’ was recorded in two takes (I was too fast in the first as I was worrying that I’d sound too bitter and sad when talking about lack of time!), and I also read a few lines from Sean O’Brian’s ‘Dignified’ (a poem that was new to me and which I admire immensely). This became part of a very evocative mash-up film of 12 people across London speaking it in a single day.

This is a very inspirational project, and marvellous to have been part of – and for someone who works with ancient texts it is always useful to be reminded how poems work so differently with the voice than just on the page: performance is the very essence of their life no matter how old they are.

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: At the Museum, Collection

One Response - Comments are closed.

  1. tankonyves says:

    Great, thank you.

    Like

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 9,214 other followers

Categories

Follow @britishmuseum on Twitter

British Museum on Instagram

Continuing our #MuseumOfTheFuture series showing all the gallery spaces, here's Room 2, Collecting the world.
The Museum was founded in 1753 and opened its doors to visitors in 1759. Room 2 celebrates some of the collectors who have shaped the Museum over four centuries, as well as individuals and organisations who continue to shape its future – from Charles Townley to Grayson Perry.
#art #museum #collection #history A new series for #MuseumOfTheFuture – we're posting pics of all our galleries. This is Room 1, Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was an age of reason and learning that flourished across Europe and America from about 1680 to 1820. This rich and diverse permanent exhibition uses thousands of objects to demonstrate how people in Britain understood their world during this period. It is housed in the King’s Library, the former home of the library of King George III. Objects on display reveal the way in which collectors, antiquaries and travellers during this great age of discovery viewed and classified objects from the world around them.
The displays provide an introduction to the Museum and its collection, showing how our understanding of the world of nature and human achievement has changed over time.

The Enlightenment Gallery is divided into seven sections that explore the major new disciplines of the age: religion and ritual, trade and discovery, the birth of archaeology, art and civilisation, classifying the world, the decipherment of ancient scripts, and natural history. It was opened in 2003 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the British Museum. This half-term take a #NightAtTheMuseum family trail in 12 #MuseumMileLDN locations. Visit any of the museums for a chance to win a trip to LA!
museum-mile.org.uk
#family #museum #movie #film #halfterm #holidays Our exhibition #MemoriesOfANation is now open! From Renaissance to reunification, this exhibition explores 600 years of German history.
Book your tickets now at britishmuseum.org/germany
#Germany #exhibition #london #museum #history Artist James Tissot was born #onthisday in 1836. Here's a print of a young woman in summer
#art #history #print #summer #artist Due to popular demand, our #8mummies exhibition is now extended until April 2015!
#mummy #museum #exhibition
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,214 other followers

%d bloggers like this: