A museum can be a way into a poem just as a poem can be a way into a museum, claims Jenni Calder, the editor of Present Poets, a new collection of poetry published to celebrate the National Museum of Scotland which opens later this year.
The poems were first displayed on the hoardings surrounding the building site of the new museum in Edinburgh's Chambers Street with illustrations by students from Edinburgh College of Art. The project, initiated by Dr Calder two years ago, has drawn together new and established poets to make a link between the themes and the objects that are going to be at the heart of the museum, with subjects ranging from "The Bones of Columba" and "Peden's Mask" to "A Roomful of Maps" and "Museum Cafe".
"It's all about breaking down barriers," said Dr Calder at the book's launch in Edinburgh last week. "The most important thing is to get away from the idea that museums are where you find objects and books are where you find poems."
The book contains 50 poems and includes names like Douglas Dunn, Robert Crawford, Valerie Gillies, Iain Crichton Smith and Kathleen Jamie. One of the poets, Colin Donati, says: "It demonstrates the range of languages in Scotland and serves as a perfect vehicle to introduce pupils to the Scots, Gaelic and English poetry Scotland produces. It could be an important educational resource, as it brings together both poetry and history."
Jenny Brown, literature director at the Scottish Arts Council, which supported the writing fee for the hoardings and posters, says: "The book followed from that. It's good to get poems into unexpected places and some of those on the hoardings were written by school children. Now the Gallery of Modern Art is inviting youngsters to write poems about the paintings in the gallery. So, there's obviously a lot of mileage in this approach. I think it's particularly imaginative."
Present Poets, pound;4.99 is published by National Museums of Scotland