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An illustrated anthology in which 26 writers respond to 26 treasures in 4 museums, using only 62 words.
reviewed by Mark Vent December 23, 2012 16:59
This book has a treasured place on my bookshelf, it's there right to hand, I love nothing better than to pick it up and dip into it, randomly opening the book and discovering a historical treasure and beside it a poem inspired by the item, from James 2nds Wedding Suit to a Shoemakers Last and everyhting read more...
Imagine you’re in a museum. You might spot a gargantuan four-poster bed that was a 16th century pub tourist attraction or a threadbare sackcloth robe worn in church by a 17th century adulteress.
Yet despite their rarity, we often fail to engage with these extraordinary objects. We simply nod and move on.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Through its 26 Treasures project, writers’ collective 26 is exploring how to create emotional connections between objects and individuals.
In 2010, London’s Victoria & Albert museum chose 26 objects from its British Galleries and randomly assigned them to 26 writers. Each person wrote exactly 62 words – 26 in reflection – in response to the object.
The results were beautiful, surprising, lyrical, sometimes comical. Andrew Motion wrote about a bust of Homer, a 17th century Chinese porcelain figure reminded a writer of a pub landlord in Inverness, while the wedding suit of James 11 inspired 62 words about “a suit as full of scratches as a rose-garden”.
In 2011 we took the idea to the National Library of Wales, the Ulster Museum and the National Museum of Scotland, where writers were let loose on objects as disparate as a mediaeval illuminated book, a beggar’s badge and a 16th century Scottish guillotine.
Now we need your help. We want to produce an anthology containing the results – including writing by Lucy Caldwell, Gillian Clarke, Alexander McCall Smith, Paul Muldoon, Bernard McLaverty and Maura Dooley.
It’s a fascinating insight into 21st century writers' perspectives on British cultural history. So please help us publish this beautiful collection of visual and verbal curiosities.
The Gough Looking-Glass
The notes suggest it’s all about this frame;
Plague, Restoration, London frosts or flame,
gesso, paint, glaze, specks of gilt and varnish,
silver leaf that turns each day to tarnish.
I think within is where the spirit dwells.
Whose face dipped in this pool to glimpse herself?
What shadow slipped through that straight gate as cloud?
Memento mori, hour glass, Turin shroud.
Writer Maura Dooley,
John Simmons is a writer and co-founder of the writers’ organisation 26. John has written many books on creative writing for business (yes, it is possible). The most recent is Room 121, co-written with Jamie Jauncey, another contributor to 26 Treasures. Before that were We, Me, Them & It, The Invisible Grail, Dark Angels and 26 Ways of Looking at a BlackBerry. The Dark Angels writing courses – run with Stuart Delves and Jamie Jauncey – have become legendary.
John’s first novel The Angel of the Stories was published in 2011. He’s been a writer-in-residence at Unilever and King’s Cross tube station, and was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by University College, Falmouth this year. John invented the sestude and has contributed two to this collection, based on objects from the V&A and the National Library of Wales. He’s a director of The Writer.
In 2003, with six other writers, John founded 26, a not-for-profit group that champions the cause of better writing in all areas of life www.26.org.uk . This has grown into a thriving membership organisation that holds events and carries out interesting writing projects (such as 26 Treasures) with different partners.
26 Treasures started as a speculative idea. It’s spread surprisingly beyond the expectations of its originators. It seems that all writers and readers treasure connections with the past through objects – personal ones and those displayed in museums. There have been more than a hundred writers involved in this collection, including many of the best-known literary authors in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland: Andrew Motion (former poet laureate), Paul Muldoon, Bernard MacLaverty, Alexander McCall Smith, Gillian Clarke (Welsh laureate). You will also find many authors on the rise such as Lucy Caldwell, Laura Forman, Sara Sheridan, Elise Valmorbida, captured at a crucial time by the charm of a new, challenging literary form. This will be the world’s first-ever collection of sestudes.
Can't wait? You can buy one of the books we've already published right away.