26 Treasures: bringing objects to life through poems and creation stories

National Library of Wales

The National Library of Wales, Aberytstwyth

If you like poems and stories, and you’re curious about the treasures we have in our national museums, take a look at www.26treasures.com or www.unbound.co.uk/books/26-treasures. Each poem or ‘sestude’ tells the story of an object from a museum, often from the point of view of the object – the aim is to encourage people to think differently about the treasures that they see in our national collections.

You can read about what a teapot dreams about on St Andrew’s day … what a serf thinks about escaping the hangman … how Dylan Thomas’s stained and crumpled word list revealed three sides of Dylan … and two sisters’ thoughts on meeting Wales’ first documentary photographer.

I have to admit this is a bit of shameless advertising for a project that I’ve been involved with. But there are a couple of parallels with music education advocacy. Firstly, if we’re trying to encourage people to ‘think differently’ about something – a cause, or an object – it may help to tell the story from a different perspective. Secondly, human beings make sense of their world through stories. And storytelling – particularly ‘from the horse’s mouth’ – is the most powerful form of advocacy.

Incidentally – there’s more on storytelling, writing with empathy, and connecting with people’s emotions in a brilliant book – Room 121 – written by two people who’ve been involved in the project (and had a big influence on my own writing), John Simmons and Jamie Jauncey.

More about the project …

The stories that I’m involved in creating or sharing are usually to do with advocating music, the arts, and not-for-profit organisations. It means I’m always writing for a ‘purpose’, but very rarely for sheer pleasure.

So when a group that I belong to – 26, the collective of writers, editors and language consultants – asked for people to volunteer to write about the objects in the National Library of Wales, I jumped at the chance.

When I say jumped … perhaps ‘nervously put my name forward thinking I probably wouldn’t be picked’ would be more accurate.

Well, I *was* picked, and along with 26 other writers – 13 writing in the Welsh language, 13 in English – and I visited the National Library of Wales last February to launch the project and ‘meet’ my treasure.

26 Treasures Wales logoHow it worked

Each writer was randomly paired with an object from the Library’s collection: from sound recordings to maps, medieval books to films, photographic albums to historic pamphlets. We then had six weeks or so to write 62 words in response ‘sestudes’ as we called them.

Some of us found our inspiration by researching the objects in depth. Others let their imagination roam free. Many found a way to speak from the heart of someone, or something, relating to the object – perhaps the treasure itself (talking Toby jugs and candle stands have featured in past projects).

The pieces were translated into Welsh and English by writers from Tŷ Newydd, the National Writers’ Centre for Wales, and submitted as part of their Translation Challenge for the National Eisteddfod – one of Europe’s oldest cultural festivals. Some of the Wales poems were also published in and article –  National Library treasures brought alive in just 62 words in the Western Mail, the national newspaper for Wales.

You can see all the 26 sestudes, along with their translations in the ‘Wales > Treasures‘ section of the 26Treasures website, and you can read some of the stories behind the finished pieces in the ‘Wales > Creation Stories‘ section.

It was a fascinating project – and soon after, projects were launched in Scotland and Northern Ireland (the first project had taken place in England).

Shameless advertising …

And now you can even pledge to buy 26Treasures: THE BOOK (from £10). Take a look at the video here. We’re collating all the sestudes in a beautifully designed and photographed publication – which we’re publishing through ‘Unbound‘ the crowd-sourced funding website for books.

For more information about 26, visit www.26.org.uk – inspiring a greater love of words in business and in life.

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5 thoughts on “26 Treasures: bringing objects to life through poems and creation stories

  1. Nip it in the bud says:

    what a terrific project. I very much like ”whatever they say I am .. I’m not” :o)

    (ps. the hyperlinks in your first paragraph and the Unbound one in the last paragraph aren’t working)

  2. anitanee says:

    Thanks Nic (I’m not keen on my poem but it was a great experience and stretched me as a writer which I need to do more often!), hyperlinks corrected, thanks for spotting x

  3. kiwiteacher says:

    This sounds like a very interesting project. I’d like to take this idea into the classroom, by giving students an object (or perhaps use a photograph of one from our local museum), and using that as a basis for narrative and / or poetic writing. Cheers!

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