Thresholds – a unique residency project that matched ten of the UK’s best poets with ten of Cambridge University’s museums and collections - reaches its thrilling climax today when their commissioned works are published online for the first time.

The poets stepped inside the museums ready to talk and learn and write and blur the artifical boundaries between the arts and sciences. I'm stunned by what they have achieved.

Carol Ann Duffy

Curated by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and supported by Arts Council England, Thresholds saw ten of the most talented poets writing today matched with institutions such as Cambridge University Library, the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Whipple Museum of the History of Science. 

From National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke’s poem Archaeopteryx about the world’s oldest bird in the Museum of Zoology, to Don Paterson’s A Pocket Horizon, based on an object in the Whipple, the poets have each written at least one work based on their unique access to Cambridge’s world-class collections during their two-week residencies. 

Members of the public can see all the commissioned poems in full from today at 

Speaking at the finale event at the Fitzwilliam Museum on Wednesday night, when the poems received their premieres in front of a live and online audience, Carol Ann Duffy spoke of the project’s tremendous success at engaging not only the poets and museums themselves – but also the wider community, especially school groups and young people.

She said: “This is a threshold; a word that implies so much - a door that’s already open and it’s been up to us to step inside. The poets understood the idea and stepped inside the museums ready to talk and learn and write and blur the artificial boundaries between the arts and sciences. Having seen all the new poems, I’m stunned by what they have achieved.

“Every museum has had to think a bit differently about their collections, they’ve had a poet-in-residence who has asked them to look at the world through the lens of poetry and reading, as well as through their collections and research. This work must continue into the future, inspiring new writing and connecting collections and museums with each other, and with new audiences who are eager to listen and learn.”

Launched last year at the University’s Festival of Ideas, Thresholds saw 860 attendees at 12 events and poetry readings. One of the fundamental aims of the project was to engage with hard-to-reach individuals and form new connections with those from areas of low cultural engagement.

This aim was spectacularly achieved with 397 young people taking part in workshops run by the poets, including pupils from nearby Manor School and Soham Village College, as well as pupils from Red Balloon in Cambridge, who work with vulnerable and bullied youngsters.
One of the pupils from Soham said: “I was expecting it to be boring and when I told my friends they were like ‘I’d rather be in school’. Actually I’ve really enjoyed it and I’d rather be here than in school.” Another said: “It’s nice to have time to write what you want, to have freedom about what you want to write.”

Imtiaz Dharker, who was poet-in-residence at Cambridge University Library, said: “For me, Thresholds was another education. I grew up thinking science was a separate subject from art. What I learned from all my great guides at the Library has found its way into my poetry, not just in the project in many more of the poems I am working on. I need to keep coming back to fill up the fountain.”

The poets and their places of residency were: Sean Borodale - Museum of Classical Archaeology; Gillian Clarke - Museum of Zoology; Imtiaz Dharker - Cambridge University Library; Ann Gray - Cambridge University Botanic Garden; Matthew Hollis - The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences; Jackie Kay - Kettle’s Yard; Daljit Nagra - Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; Don Paterson - Whipple Museum of the History of Science; Jo Shapcott - The Polar Museum; Owen Sheers - The Fitzwilliam Museum.

Helen Taylor, Project Manager, and the driving force behind Thresholds, added: “This unique project has exceeded almost all of our expectations.  Our tenThresholds poets became a catalyst for a creative process which invited museums, collections, young people and new audiences to step over the thresholds of Cambridge University Museums and collections.  We have ten new poems with more to come and a community of poets, museums, young people and members of the public who have stepped inside and are eager to continue the conversation. ”

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