Thresholds project in 2013 will sponsor poets-in-residence across 10 of the university's own collections
Jackie Kay will be drawing inspiration from the Cambridge art gallery Kettle's Yard, Jo Shapcott from the Polar Museum, Owen Sheers from the collections at the Fitzwilliam. A new project, Thresholds, is matching 10 major UK poets with museums and collections across Cambridge University, with the writers each commissioned to compose a poem inspired by the exhibits at their institution.
Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy invited each of the poets – also including Don Paterson, Daljit Nagra and Wales's national poet Gillian Clarke – to take part in the project, which she called "a stunning level of commitment to poetry and poets". She will launch Thresholds tonight at the university's Festival of Ideas.
"This really is an unprecedented initiative," said Duffy, who will curate the Arts Council England-backed project. "These 10 residencies will create a unique collaboration of poets, creating a meeting of minds and disciplines and providing a catalyst for ideas. They will be renaissance poets for Cambridge in the truest sense."
Each poet will spend two weeks in residence at his or her institution, between January and March next year. They will meet staff, explore the collections, and write their poems. The museums and collections include Cambridge University Library, matched with the poet Imtiaz Dharker and where Newton's own copy of Principia Mathematica resides, the Museum of Zoology, matched with Clarke, which features animal specimens collected by Charles Darwin on the Beagle voyage, and Shapcott's residence the Polar Museum, home to Captain Scott's farewell letter to his wife.
"In a previous life I worked as a bronze caster in a London foundry, making large-scale works by contemporary artists – hence I find the prospect of exploring the plaster casts in the Museum of Classical Archaeology fascinating," said Sean Borodale, whose first collection has just been shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize. "I'm interested in the idea of the copy, and how it resonates between the 'touch' of the artist and the presence of the audience."
An anthology of the 10 new poems will be published next March. The project also matches Ann Gray with Cambridge University Botanic Garden, Matthew Hollis with The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, Nagra with the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Paterson with the Whipple Museum of the History of Science.