Poetry Installation: Lowther Castle, Cumbria
In 2013, I organised Beneath The Boughs: an installation of contemporary poetry at Lowther Castle, Cumbria. The idea behind the project came from the gardens of the castle. Once a place of formal grandeur, the gardens had since become overgrown and almost wild. While the Lowther Castle & Gardens Trust have been working hard to uncover the garden from it’s decades of unchecked growth, it still balances the wild with the contained. Like a woodland in a storybook, it’s a place to be explored, where anything can be discovered: from old carved stones, to Victorian summerhouses, to a mirror-like iris-filled pond.
My idea was to add a further element of discovery: poetry.
The installation featured work by poets from Cumbria to Singapore, and included poems hung from trees, in Victorian summer houses, and even on underwear on a laundry line! The exhibition also included an interactive area, where visitors could create their own poems, as well as work by local students from Shap Primary School and Queen Elizabeth Grammar School.
Over seven thousand people saw the exhibition during its two months at Lowther Castle in 2013. Beneath The Boughs was funded by Arts Council England.
“There was something quite wondrous about finding all these words in such unexpected places.”
“the gardens became part of the text, reflected in it and inseparable from it”
“hanging from the ceiling, word by word… like small brown fish”
– Polly Atkin, Poet
“innovative and unusual… an artists’ paradise”
– Historic Houses Association
“Shap Primary poems are innocent & direct & simple and so good.”
“I loved the poetry in the trees.”
– Visitor feedback cards
Photography by Katie Johnston:
In the lead-up to the installation, I ran poetry workshops for sixth form English students at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Penrith, and for year 5/6 at Shap Church of England Primary School. In the secondary school workshop, we looked at dramatic monologues and the personification of animals. In the primary school, we looked at metaphor and the relationship between concrete and abstract nouns.
Images from some of the Shap School poems included:
‘Excitement sounds like splashes.’
‘Hope sounds like somebody whistling.’
‘Sadness sounds as quiet as a lonely broken down house.’
‘Discovery is silent but opens slowly.’