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A Bitter Draught - the Starling & Slavery
Mon 4 Sep 2006
Starting on 17 September 2006, in the gallery at Shandy Hall, this literary and multimedia exhibition will herald the 200th anniversary of Parliament's abolition of the slave trade. Meanwhile, the House of Commons is advertising for a Parliamentary Writer-in-Residence to commemorate the Act.
In A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne the narrator, Yorick, hears a voice in an alleyway in Paris repeating the phrase 'I can't get out' and discovers the cry for help is coming from a caged starling. This encounter causes the narrator to reflect upon liberty and imprisonment and he declares to the reader that he considers slavery to be 'a bitter draught'.

"I have nothing farther to add upon him, but that, from that time to this, I have borne this poor starling as the crest to my arms."

This autumn, in the gallery at Shandy Hall, an exhibition will focus on this literary reference and with the use of museum specimens, dvd, stained-glass, text, screenprint and installations by contemporary artists the themes of social justice, citizenship and slavery will be explored.

The exhibition will herald the 200th anniversary of Parliament's abolition of the slave trade in 2007 of which William Wilberforce was the prime mover. The exhibition is open every day, 11-4.30pm until 8 October, thereafter Sundays until January 2007.

The starling is a social bird often flocking to roost in thousands, but is currently on the Red List of endangered species and its numbers are declining.

The following poem has been specially written for the exhibition by Maura Dooley.

At Liberty

Thief of the morning's shine,
dew-sipper, whose beady eye
is one more bright disc in
a mirrorwork of jet, amethyst, emerald,
iridescent silken spangle,
hush that snippy, starveling beak!
Dance in your suit of lights!
The season's short, the trees begin to bare,
in bars of sun and shade the end is near.


Maura Dooley's Sound Barrier: Poems 1982-2002 is published by Bloodaxe. She has edited The Honey Gatherers: An Anthology of Love Poems (Bloodaxe, 2003) and How Novelists Work (Seren, 2000), a collection of essays by contemporary writers.


Writer-in-Residence

Parliament will also be holding an exhibition, in Westminster Hall from May-September 2007. The House of Commons is seeking to establish a writer's residency to support the exhibition, an online learning resource and, most importantly, the schools programme. Further details can be downloaded (above, top right).

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