Verses at an Exhibition

Posted on by Anita O'Donovan

During a visit by staff, guides and volunteers from the National Coal Mining Museum for England to the National Civil War Museum in Newark, an interesting detail came to light. It seems the explanatory captions accompanying exhibits are often written at length, up to 1,500 words, initially. There is then an editing process ultimately reducing them to a maximum of fifty words.

As a poet I am interested in the process of saying much in as few words required. So I set myself the task of writing 5 vignettes, short poems of around 50 words, reflecting my experience of the day.


Verses at an Exhibition
(Five vignettes on the Civil War Museum, Newark)

How many volunteers required
Just to maintain a civil war?
And who has got the musket balls,
The cold steel, the thrust and parry,
The strategy to martial all
The forces? Only then the troop
Stands readied to deal with the charge:
Open the doors to the advance.

Watch out for rats and Rupert
Crossing the Royal Market Square,
Or you may be bitten and plagued
By a fever for history.
Attention to the troop leader
And all the lessons there to learn,
For a grenado of ideas
Might just ignite a well thatched mind.

Trent dividing like Parliament and crown.
Pick this side or that or that or become marooned
For a minute in history, drawn up
On the middle ground, subtly shifting
Island as the present current flows by
In a long chronology of events.
It is time to withdraw, it’s time for lunch.

Once upon a time, a company
Of tunnelers would have been unwelcome,
An insurgency brought to undermine
The stout walls, the stouter hearts of Newark.
Mary Magdalene’s not even watching
As royalists and republicans mingle
In her precincts, unconcerned which is which,
Not making exhibitions of themselves.

Civil War in just fifty words. To begin,
King needs cash, Canterbury wants Scotland,
Parliament demands a voice having become
Mouthpiece to the mercantile. Once royal
Standards rise, then the cry from both sides is,
“For God and for the King!” Confusion ensues
Until the director calls, “Cut!” Roll credits.

Dave Alton
(Coalshed Poets)





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