Pascale Petit
Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum


Pascale Petit's first collection was published by Enitharmon in 1998. Her poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies. She has an MA in Sculpture from the Royal College of Art and is Poetry Editor of Poetry London.




Artshare Southwest (the regional arts and disability organisation) and Russell-Cotes (art gallery and museum within Bournemouth Borough Council's Arts and Museums Division) proposed that a poet come in to the refurbished Art Gallery and Museum prior to its re-opening. The poet and participants would use the empty rooms, the decorations revealed during restoration and re-decorations, and the building's sense of place as stimulus for making poetry. The finished poems will be displayed in the museum during the process of re-opening.



POETRY UNDER PAINTED SKIES: A Poetry Place course at The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum



Report by Pascale Petit


This March 2000 I was offered a Poetry Place residency in the empty Russell-Cotes Museum, among the newly restored decorations -- stained-glass picture windows and domes of night-skies with owls, bats, comets and clouds; painted ceilings and covings of suns, swallows, peacocks; and fabulous creatures -- winged horses and octopus-women. Some walls had been stripped back to the original Victorian plaster complete with artist & graffiti, windows unboarded letting the sea-light in, and all murals painstakingly cleaned with cotton-buds. It was a gift of an environment for writing poems. The rooms had also been a family home, which anchored the project in the personal. The house's situation on a cliff-top overlooking the sea added another dimension.


After two preliminary visits, three short courses were devised to run simultaneously over three weeks -- eight days' work in all. Thursdays were with a small group of mental health service users, Fridays and Saturdays with larger groups of the public. Each day I set warm-up writing games followed by springboard exercises using the rooms as a stimulus. I provided published poems on appropriate themes to use as models, lines from cosmological myths, e.g. How Night Was Made (Tales of the Yanomami), and supplied fact-files on the many animals depicted throughout the house. I encouraged a personal and contemporary approach to the material, focusing on details that resonated for individuals.


I was very impressed by the quality of the poems that came out of these workshops -- imaginative, fresh, often haunting in keeping with the spirit of the place, and there was lots of humour too. On the last Saturday evening all participants were invited to read their course poems at a public event in the main hall. This was very well attended and again, the poems they read of a particularly high standard. I finished the evening with a reading from my own work, including many poems inspired by the placement. The presence of the sea, the glass octopus-women, and the sky-horses, all inspired new poems for my current collection -- exuberant images to manage painful subjects.


Poems by participants



Hilary Eiloart
The Crow Room




At dark, the ceilings crack and rustle;


it's then they flood through the window that is


always left open for them.


Each flies straight to his own special host,


to build their rookeries in men's minds.


Sometimes my bird goes to another,


but when he comes to me, I'm sleeping-


I never know how he gets in.


He plucks at my hair for a nest, sips from my


tear ducts




In the morning my mouth spits out shining quills,


black flakes of paint, and droppings.


First gold of day, and they return to their room


of the rising sun;


sated, engorged, they heave themselves up to sleep


in the painted walls.






Moira Clark




on the wallpaper

of this restored house --

the flowers around you

open their mouths

when you touch them.


You may perch here

on this root pulsing with tree-blood,

dart your iridescence

through the papers skin.


King of Fishers, only you

can bring lightning up from the past.






Tony Horitz




he was in my bedroom

dead in the centre

so cool so hard

with his tight-fitting armour


though small I knew that

nothing could hurt him

As I stroked his horned back

he said he'd protect me


One night I heard him

chasing cucarachas

the crunch of his jaws

armadilloed in my head


and then he came close

snuffling at my ear

I smelt his dry breath

and shed my last tear


inside my mouth now

thirty years later

his salty carapace

squats on my tongue





Young Poets Network