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This report is taken from PN Review 211, Volume 39 Number 5, May - June 2013.

Putting Poets in Museums Vahni Capildeo
Inside the museum, a man stands next to a glass case. The usual museum atmosphere of anaerobically respiring darkness experiences a breakage. Light flashes as the man, who is a poet, turns his head. He gestures. More heads turn. The spill of gold coins, arranged inside the case, suddenly appears both hidden and found; like itself, like surprise, like profusion. A poem is spoken.

I feel uncomfortable; not because objects need no words, or words live without objects. Perhaps because museums can have a shushing effect on people; couples cling, families cluster, individuals file. Perhaps it seems like effrontery to say anything in return, or as a departure, because we are told what we are looking at by the catalogue, audio guide, tour guide, and we are also told off by a room invigilator if we come up too close to look. Perhaps it is that the poet, Paul Surman, is speaking about the hands which handled those bits of metal, and his words are making our own fingers feel chill or anarchic, craving contact, hyperaware of our prohibitive ability to connect; with every personal reaction to an object, every private imagination sparked by a word, we are alone in a series of enriching infidelities to the differently alone people with whom we share overseen space.

Outside the museum, the troubling surge in Victoriana continues. People who insist that they are real women latch themselves into corsets and scratch at the streets they fear at night. Those ...


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