Trainee Tuesday: Walking with Ghosts

I’m going to make my own mark; poetry will be a fresh, bold-stepping spirit on the site and (I’m hoping) not the last of its breed.

A selection of files at Nottinghamshire Archives

A selection of files at Nottinghamshire Archives

Based in Nottinghamshire Archives, I’m currently supporting three projects in my role as trainee for The National Archives: one in which I’m digitising sensitive data, another project that supports the role of the Nottinghamshire Archives within school’s outreach and the curriculum and, thirdly, one that feeds an online site which serves the communities of Nottinghamshire.  This latter is uploaded with digital scans and photographs of manuscripts and documents from Nottinghamshire Archive’s collection alongside explanations and background to the images.

I see a lot of trolley pushing of document requests; indeed, one can imagine being on a hospital ward, distributing medicines, chocolate and newspapers to the patients.

But what we’re really seeing is history rolled out: maps, plans, indentures, probate documents, personal and collective memories…  Yesterday I was skimming through newspapers from the Second World War and reflecting on my father and his seasoned eight decades.

I’d be interested to find out if other trainees have sat with documents and really considered what they’re handling.  Have there been any moments of reflection, realisations? Perhaps you’ve discovered a photo album that has an image that looks like yourself or a close or distant friend?

Consider the imprints of manuscripts; what they’ve been through, what they’ve collected:  the dust (before it’s cleaned off), the unseen data, if you like.  The only way to explain this (for me, anyway) is through metaphor; a medium I’m familiar with from my previous incarnation as arts worker.

Our traineeships are about finding things out; learning and absorbing. In the day to day, occasionally there’s something more transient we engage with.

 

ghosts asleep

what stares from out the pages – draws a breath
what’s dragged from out the coldness beats its heart
the eyes drop forward and history makes tests
the tests are what we question in the start

what’s dragged from out the coldness beats its heart
what’s scribed upon the vellum bears its truth
the oldness of the ages on its cart
wheels slowly in the corridors of proof

the eyes drop forward and history makes tests
the reading of between the lines is ours
we call upon the ghosts asleep (at rest)
we wake them from such slumbers in their towers

the tests are what we question in the start
examinations laid upon the wood
we take all of the evidence apart
the ghosts are ground to powder (in the blood)

what’s dragged from out the coldness beats its heart
what ephemera gets teased – bejewels its teeth
the minutiae of life – its acts – its parts
releases from the world of underneath

what’s scribed upon the vellum bears its truth
the probate wills and inventories of death
the deeds and charters – laws and acts are glue
that makes the past seem distant to the rest

the oldness of the ages on its cart
keeps trundling by on wheels that turn and turn
we call for news of those that speechless dart
across the desks and what we read we learn

so wheels are slow in corridors of proof
and slower still the searching for its beat
the stream that keeps its flowing and its route
tenacious in the measuring it keeps

the eyes drop forward and history makes tests
the abyss where the eye of quill draws deep
shifts stiff upon its heels then shakes its nest
it gives its wisdom slow in tired heaps

the reading of between the lines is ours
decisions balance on the sword of wait
(what seed will final germinate in flower
is metaphor for closing of its fate)

we call upon the ghosts asleep (at rest)
we shake the cupboards loose to slake the thirst
our hunger then to put the bones to flesh
to empty out the voices from the hearse

we wake them from such slumbers in their towers
the reading of between the lines is ours

2 comments

  1. Melinda Haunton says:

    *g* Great minds think alike (http://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/blog/please-do-not-boil-the-archives/) – we’re getting Archiving the Arts (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archives-sector/archiving-the-arts.htm) inspired this year. Though you write your own poetry, which is distinctly one up on me.

    This is totally something to roll out more widely. I love to see archives as inspiration for many kinds of creativity, but especially the written word.

    1. Dave W says:

      Hi Melinda

      I finished my traineeship in March 2014. I’d still love to roll out creativity to the Archives (in fact, I’m just applying for a very interesting project in the north).

      Best

      Dave
      (writer of ‘ghosts asleep’)

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