Weaving a poem

Somehow it’s already the start of March, and in St Andrews that means one thing: StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival is here, bringing with it the creative buzz of literary folks in town. This year, the festival has two overriding themes, ‘A Common Wealth of Poetry’ and ‘Words under Fire’ (or to you and me, the commonwealth games and war, which some may argue are not unrelated… think All Blacks and the Haka!).


As in previous years, MUSA is hosting a number of events, including Wednesday’s creative writing workshop, with Jenny Lewis, ‘Voicing the Past: Their Wars, Your Words’ and short ‘Musings’ sessions at 1pm each day, which will hopefully inspire personal and original responses to selected artefacts on display at the museum. Last but not least, MUSA has been working with StAnza to ‘connect’ some of our so-called ‘ethnographic’ artefacts from Commonwealth countries with contemporary poets representing those same nations, to create a ‘virtual anthology’. A different object and poem will be featured here each day of StAnza, so be sure to check in and see what’s new.


Thursday 6 March


First up is one of the University’s earliest acquisitions for its museum collections, a Cree basket made of birch bark stitched with porcupine quills and spruce root. Originally used for gathering and storing food, the basket was given to the University in 1728 for its ‘Curiosities’ collection.

Canadian Birch Basket
Canadian Birch Basket


Here are two poems about the basket by Canadian poets, Chris Gilpin and Gale Burns:


Birch Basket Behind Glass


tree skin

time ship

Cree finger-

stitched pointing

boiled quills

rooted joints

offering plate

folded hands

forest hands

open palm


By Chris Gilpin


A basket is an offering


A basket is an offering, a holding together –

made by First Nations Cree from pioneer Birch,

braided with porcupine quills to corral gatherings.

We brought it home, offering the Cree

bartered exchange, the last days of Acadia,

strife with the French and friendly diseases.

A basket is an offering.


By Gale Burns


Chris Gilpin works as the Onsite Program Facilitator for Animating History at the Museum of Vancouver and as the Executive Director of Vancouver Poetry House. Chris won two poetry slams at the 2012 Vancouver International Poetry Festival and has been widely published.


Gale Burns was born in Montreal, Canada, and is a writer in residence at both the Kingston Writing School, Kingston University London, and Sydenham Arts Festival. He convenes the Shuffle poetry series in London, and was a 2012 Hawthornden Fellow. His work has been translated into French and Slovenian.





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