A double celebration at Portsmouth Museum on Friday 11 September at 5pm (speeches and prize giving at 5.30pm).

The launch of A Hard Choice: an anthology of creative writing inspired by art & design collections at Portsmouth Museum, is a fitting finale to Aoife Mannix’s work as our writer in residence. The publication includes poetry and prose written by Aoife and some of the adults and young people she worked with during her time at Portsmouth Museum. The writing brings new voices to the museum and suggests intriguing alternatives to the stories shared with visitors in the exhibition labels.

The 500 Pompey Words story writing competition invited seven to 14 year olds to write short stories based on the objects on show in A Hard Choice. The winning entries will be revealed and read out and prizes will be awarded to the authors.

If you would like to attend please rsvp to or 02392 834752.

Restored To Its Former Glory

by Aoife Mannix
inspired by Painted HMV Gramophone, about 1928, Oil paint on wooden cabinet, Dora Carrington

She was hidden under magnolia,
a wash of sunshine covering
the neglected darkness.
Her tin foil songs unsung
for so long but now she is
silently humming the words
to the greatest love letter
that could never be opened.

She shot herself when he died.
Unrequited, undersold,
a decorator of signs that led nowhere
but peering closer you can follow
her passion, the scratch of war wounds,
the spinning of those old records,
Orlando and her many orchestras.


Here’s another great poem written by one of my workshop participants. Don’t forget the deadline for submitting to our anthology is July 20th. You can find out more information here.

A Sense of Time Passing
by Patsy Collins
inspired by Plaques, 1939 and 1963, Engraved and enamelled metal, former Victoria Swimming Baths in Portsmouth

Coconutty suntan lotion applied hit and miss
and candyfloss sweet lipsalve kisses
splash over the chlorine and Germoline for scraped shins.
Ice cream drips off chins
It’s not quite washed away as they pass this way
and plan the salads for the diets they’ll follow

Soaring up, echoing about are the shouts and squeals of children
released for summer. Rushing, in
ready to swim, they don’t hear the fainter waves.
Those made by grandfathers, great grandfathers.
‘We’ll be back soon,’ the promises as they were swept to war.
Many meant. Not so many kept.
Too many unknowingly lied
and died.

The water grew cold back then. Flavoured with sorrow and tears.
A metallic tang from the guns and the bombs and
bullets and shells. Hopes were melted and
park railings smelted for medals as thanks.
And tanks.

But the sun shines now on the young and carefree.
Fears and fighting are in the past.
At last the children race, length after length.
They have health and strength and a future.
They laugh and call and have a ball. It’s noisy this peace.
It buoys them up, like chlorined water. Keeps them safe.
As they scrape their shins and steal kisses and away from class,
taking a chance. Living the lives they’ve been given.

The Art of Curating

Here’s another poem I’ve written for my Portsmouth Museum residency –

by Aoife Mannix
inspired by Rosalinda Hardiman’s exhibition voice over

To care for the colours on the walls,
the fragments of wine glasses
resurrected in the memory
of seventeenth century dances.

Sundials spotted on walls
to be smashed in case of fire.
A snake that slipped through her hands,
an unknown number of bed bugs
humming in a drawer.

The art of arranging teacups
for a lady who raced motor cars,
an old man who gave away his mirrors.

These reflections are hung
with tender kisses to mark
the passing of thousands of years.
The profound curiousity of the curator
with the magpie eyes,
two for joy, one for sorrow.

Serving Tea

4. 1127_1980 Teapot Christopher Dresser

Another wonderful poem by a participant in one of my workshops –

Ceramic, Perspex and Steel Naval Teapot

by Lynne E Blackwood
Inspired by ‘Military Teapot Fixed Emplacement’, 1973, Stoneware and aluminium, David Hamilton

Iron shot and cannon rounds roll to and fro
around the rim, create a din within
the sailors’ fragile home. My companions
goad and shout at shot-shovers and skittle-hitters,
clad for the most in navy-blue serge,
others dressed as jack-tars,
oiled pigtails clinging stiff on backs.
Our stars are written in the upturned
half a moon lid above, delicate with rose-pink slip
and cerulean blue glaze. Escape! From a shot
and ball din spinning in the ceramic bowl.
It fills our hearts this desire for freedom.
The world whirls and swirls too much
so we scale up the fish-scaled spout, pour out
like wet tealeaves, jettison
grappling hooks onto steel handles.
We grip and slither but are resolute,
clamber upward to the translucent summit,
our clarity in the clouds far from shot and cannonball
rumbles that roll in the dregs of our watery grave.

Hunting for Treasure

by Aoife Mannix
inspired by ‘Snuff box’, about 1760-1770, Shell and silver, probably German

The end of our garden was a graveyard
for broken pottery, emerald glass,
coins with faded faces that bounced
from broken springs, a bed frame
that served as a ladder up
into a crumbling muse.

I balanced on the wooden beams,
peering down through the gaps in the roof,
risking life and limb to reach the remains
of an ancient Christmas tree, a treasure chest
I was sure must contain at least
a few trinkets of solid gold,
some overlooked diamonds.

My younger brother egging me on
as the afternoon sunlight
set the dust dancing wildly.
I coughed and nearly fell,
steeling my nerve to ignore
the creak of rotten wood.

But when I finally threw back the lid,
the chest was completely empty,
except perhaps for the ghost
of my mother’s voice
calling us in for tea
and the memory
of all that we found
in those forbidden places.

Memory Vessel

Here’s an example of a wonderful poem written by one of my workshop participants –

What will I place in my memory vessel for you?
by Lizzie Chittleboro

I will fill it with the scent of summer;

The first time I smelt your head
warm, milky, of you, of me, of otherness

Jasmine it’s tangled green branches
bearing small white flowers heavy with exotic musk

Alpine strawberries and their delicate scent creeping
their unruly way across the terrace

Beach bags full of salty, damp swimming costumes
mingling with a treasure trove of sea weed and shells

What will I place inside my memory vessel for you?
I will fill it with the sounds of autumn;

The shuffle and swish of leaves underfoot in the hollow way
the crackle of pruned branches and dead wood on the bonfire

The whizz and zoom of rockets
gasps of surprise as brightly coloured sparks fall from the sky

The noisy rronk, rronk of the Brent geese announcing their arrival
back from the Arctic to the fields near the sea.

The wind as it whistles down the chimney
and around the sturdy walls of the house

What will I place in my memory vessel for you?
I will fill it with the taste of winter;

Of porridge warm with cinnamon
butter melting on thick doughy toast

Casseroles slowly cooked tender with love
Tantalising curry spicy on your tongue

Chestnuts almost burnt to a crisp on the fire
Tangy tangerines tasting of far away places

Shiny chocolate parcels from a glittering tree
sacred, mysterious, delicious
What will I put in my memory vessel for you?
I will fill it with the feelings of spring;

Hope rising and tapping me to wake up
and see the green buds as they unfurl

Shrugging off my old coat
to let the gentle sun caress my skin

Damp grass between my toes
my heavy boots abandoned

My heart leaping in a secret clearing
feet dancing just above the waves of bright bluebells


Character Studies

On Sunday, I ran the last of my writer’s residency workshops at the Portsmouth Museum. Rosalinda Hardiman, whose long career as a curator has inspired the exhibition ‘A Hard Choice’, came and spoke to the group with great eloquence and enthusiasm about her work. It was a great start to a wonderfully creative morning. I asked participants to create characters around objects they had chosen from the collection. The stories that emerged were full of imagination, drama and humour. I look forward to including them in our anthology to celebrate my residency. The deadline for submissions is July 20th. Find out more information here.

Here’s a poem I’ve written inspired by Sunday’s workshop and the brilliant characters that were created –

A Question of Character

An octopus regrets his insignificance
as the man who never leaves home
threatens to sue the shape of chairs.
Cheap copies of Ikea cushions
that chatter in the night
as the magpie murderer taps the glass,
murmuring of her eel forks buried in the attic,
the compromises made with poverty
and how she would have loved
to step out of the painting,
to choose secrets and a ménage a trois.

She’d never written it down before
but that last love letter hidden
in the museum for messages in a bottle,
begged him to sit down in the wooden elegance
of his war medals and know that now was the time
to heal those old wounds, to travel back to Madras,
where her mother had shot tigers, and read
the old stories preserved with such fragile grace.

Travelling Through The Museum

On Friday I ran a writers’ workshop at the Portsmouth Museum. Participants were asked to pick an object from the exhibition ‘A Hard Choice’ that they would like to find themselves. They then wrote their fantasy journey to find this particular treasure. Some truly inspired adventures and wonderful imagery emerged over the course of the afternoon.

Here’s a poem I’ve written that hopefully captures some of the spirit of the wonderful writing that the participants produced –


Travelling with Bonnie Prince Charlie
through tartan glass, the fragments
of Chinese slippers, a hat
you can’t remember the name of
but still see on your great uncle
as he peers at you through his cracked monocle.

You are a collector of fine wine,
the wind that blows in the trees,
a doll that was broken
and could never be fixed.

You head out into the spring rain
with the taste of eels in your mouth,
slippery and unsure. The path
is strewn with active volcanoes,
ice storms, hot sand under your feet.

You celebrate nightfall
as a deep purple bruise.
You fly into the jungle,
no longer sure if your specimen jars
should hold Aboriginal stories
or if laughter can be posted home.


Yesterday I worked with students from Priory School who came to the Portsmouth Museum to see their fascinating ‘A Hard Choice’ exhibition. We wrote ghost stories inspired by objects they chose from the collection. I was really struck by not only the young people’s vivid imagination and dramatic descriptions but also the emotional depth of their tales of tragedy and revenge. Listening to some of them read their work aloud actually made me shiver! They will make excellent entries for our story competition. If you know anyone aged 7- 14 who’s interested in writing and lives in Portsmouth, then please do encourage them to enter. The deadline is June 30th.

Here’s a poem I’ve written inspired by the students’ fantastic writing –

Night At the Museum

The record player is haunted
by a young girl singing
for the parents who starved her,
a child scarred from a broken mirror,
the threat of pigs rampaging,
a castrated pervert, the artist
who murdered his model in a fit of a rage.

Inside the head of a boy,
there are the ghosts of eels,
unexploded bombs, vicious moles with razor teeth.
At night when you walk up these narrow stairs,
beware the negative ring that glows with death,
the face at the window insisting on silence,
the screens who guard their secrets.

These stories are knocking at the glass,
creaking in their frames,
whispering in the corners.
They collect the horror of heartbreak,
the breathless waiting for history
to shake itself free from the dust
of forgotten nightmares.