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Polar poetry

Polar poetry

The Sea of Ice, also called The Wreck of Hope is an oil painting of 1823–1824 by the German Romantic artist Caspar David FriedrichPoetry at The Polar Museum: feel inspired - get involved

Our mission is to present and interpret the Polar Regions for the widest audience. As part of the Scott Polar Research Institute, much of our focus is on scientific and anthropological investigation. However, art and creativity are vitally important in bringing to life the collections and the stories that they embody. Part of our work is to engage artists and writers as interpreters of our collections.

Poetry helps our visitors to engage with the stories that surround the objects on display, illuminating the tragedy of Scott's Antarctic expedition, the mystery of Franklin's disappearance in the Arctic and the fascination of the countless other tales from Inuit legend to modern scientific endeavour.

The Polar Library plays host to Invited Poet Kaddy Benyon, who is working alongside the Museum's staff to develop poetry-themed public outreach.

If you would like to know more, or would like to be on our mailing lists, please email

The Polar Museum Polar Poetry Pack

Come to the Polar Museum and try our new 'Poetry Pack', complete with inspiring ideas and a 'poetry emergency kit' of handy tips.

Previous Events

In Conversation with a Museum: The Polar Muse
Tuesday 4 November, 6pm - 7.30pm

Join us for an evening with the poets whose new work forms an intervention in the museum galleries. This will be a fascinating opportunity to hear them reading their poems and discussing their experiences of working with the museum as part of The Polar Muse Project.

The Polar Muse
23 September 2014 - 28 February 2015

The Polar Muse is an innovative collaboration between The Polar Museum and eight Cambridge-based poets, made possible by a Grant for the Arts from Arts Council England. Each poet has chosen an object from the Museum’s permanent display that excites, inspires or unsettles them. They have been commissioned to write a poem in response to that object, dwelling on whatever they choose: its appearance, its history or even much larger stories in which it played only a minor role. From September 2014 to February 2015, the resulting poems were presented on the glass of the Museum’s display cases, in front of the objects which inspired them.

Part of The Polar Museum’s programme for the University of Cambridge Museums’ shared season, Curating Cambridge, The Polar Muse seeks to explore and challenge how we engage with objects in museums. We want to offer new ideas about interpreting museum objects - not solely based on facts and not necessarily coerced or shaped by a simple relationship between an object and a caption. We hope that the presentation of the poems will disrupt visitors' expectations of a museum visit and encourage questions about the relationship between language, looking and understanding.

The Polar Museum is delighted to be collaborating with Lucy Hamilton, Sarah Howe, Rod Mengham, Drew Milne, Redell Olsen, Andrea Porter, Lucy Sheerman, Rebecca Watts and PN Review, which has publish the commissioned poems in a special supplement.

Read a review of the exhibition.

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Behind the Scenes of the Scott Polar Research Institute

A unique opportunity to work with the Scott Polar Research Institute, the world’s oldest international centre for Polar Research within a university. Each monthly session will be led by an institute researcher and a poet. You’ll get privileged access to the museum’s collections of journals, paintings, photographs, clothing equipment, maps and other materials illustrating polar exploration, history and science, and then you’ll write new poems based on the stories and artefacts you discover. As a group, you will work towards a publication and a performance of the work that you create over your three-month museum residency.

This course is a collaboration between the Poetry School and SPRI, and is inspired by the work that was done by the Threshold residencies in 2013.
- See more at:


The Poetry School: Behind the Scenes of the Scott Polar Research Institute

29 March, 26 April, 24 May

3 monthly sessions: 10.30am - 4.30pm, Saturday 29th March, Saturday 26th April, Saturday 24th May. - See more at:

A unique opportunity to work with the Scott Polar Research Institute. Each monthly session will be led by an Institute researcher and a poet. Participants will have privileged access to the Polar Museum's collections of journals, paintings, photographs, clothing, equipment, maps and other materials illustrating polar exploration, history and science, writing new poems based on the stories and artefacts discovered.

The group will work towards a publication and a performance over the three month course. This is a collaboration between the Poetry School and SPRI and was inspired by the work that was done during the Thresholds residencies in 2013. For further details, please see the Poetry School web site.


Charles Hood: The Poetry of Antarctica

6 November 2013

A poetry reading and discussion with Antarctic poet & naturalist, Charles Hood. Hood's writing celebrates and explores life at the extreme edge of our planet. Blending travel narrative, historical research and surprises of magical realism, Hood presents life in Antarctica and the history of polar aviation as both a miracle of achievement yet also as a way to understand humanity's need to push themselves to their limits.

Professor Hood is a Research Fellow at the Art and Environment Institute of the Nevada Art Museum, and also Professor of English at Antelope Valley College in the Mojave Desert.

Snow Queen Retold

Exhibition (16 August - 31 August 2013)

Inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen's story, The Snow Queen Retold is a collaboration between SPRI Invited Poet Kaddy Benyon and Textile Artist Lindsey Holmes. Benyon's poetry re-imagines the narrative journey to the North Pole in this classic tale; Holmes' art installation has been created as a textile response to these written works. Read more …

Poems from the Snow Queen Day on 29 August 2013

Erebus at the Polar Museum

28 February 2013


A rare opportunity to hear 'Erebus', a poetic drama for radio by Jo Shapcott about Sir John Franklin's search for the North-West Passage. The 1845 expedition led by Franklin was lost in the ice and never returned. The mysteries remain. In the intervening time rescue and, subsequently, archaeological expeditions have gone in search of clues as to what went wrong. Fragments of evidence have been found in the ice and latterly frozen bodies too. Why did the mission fail, did the sailors resort to eating their colleagues, what did the Inuit make of them? The play, a Radio 4 'Pick of the Week", was first broadcast in January 2012, produced by Tim Dee with an innovative soundscape by composer Jon Nicholls.

Presenters: Writer Jo Shapcott, Producer Tim Dee, Composer Jon Nicholls

Poetry Workshops

January - June 2013

A series of weekly workshops for adults based in the Polar Museum, led by Sophie Smiley.

Festival of Ideas 2012

Here are the results of our polar poetry session, held as part of the Festival of Ideas 2012.


We were delighted to work with Jo ShapcotJo Shapcottt as part of the University of Cambridge Museums' Thresholds Project. Given Jo's interest in Sir John Franklin, it was particularly fitting that her first day at the Institute coincided with a lecture given by Parks Canada marine archaeologist Ryan Harris on the search for Franklin's ships. Jo was our Poet in Residence from January to March 2013.

Read Jo's blog ...

Listen to the poem Fox Collar

Fox Collar by Jo Shapcott


First, catch yer fox with a gripping trap,
one made all of iron, with enough clickets
to hold her but not to crush her leg.
You will do well to bury it under an inch of snow,
put meat in, and meat juices about the place.
Many fur-bearing creatures make a go of it up here,
but fox is best for what we want, with her speed,
with her thick, thick white fur all over
and on her soles, too, her roundy body,
all upholstered for the cold.  She go far north,
she do.  She is bold and will take the trap.
I heard how one grabbed seal meat
from under the bonce of a midshipman,
right there, in his tent, a fool who guarded chow
by making it his pillow.  They was all
blizzed in.  He set off an ice quake
running after she, with his blubber toes
and his lost dreams of big heaps to eat. 

You got your collar, we brung eight, will
use them all, good leather, fitted
to an English fox back home for size.
You got your engraving tools, so scribe
careful thus: HBMS ENTERPRISE WQ
(you won’t fit Winter Quarters in long)
LAT 71.35 N LONG 117.39 W XX XII 1851.
Grasp her by the scruff, don’t free her
from the trap till the collar’s on firm.
Watch her run, maybe with a wobble
in her gait from where the iron bit.
But it won’t bother her much
as she goes off and off, with her big eye,
and her empty guts, maybe a hundred
maybe more miles on a hunt and a flyer
with fur feet which make the snow and ice
just a game for her, though it do murder us.




From the Franklin display cases at SPRI:

Fox Collar The area of the Franklin searches was vast and many tactics were used to send information on supply depots and rescue ships to any survivors. Eight Arctic foxes were fitted with inscribed collars and released in the hope that the missing men would read the message. The fox wearing this collar travelled over 120 km before its recapture in the winter of 1851-52. There is no evidence that Franklin's men received any of this information