Living poetically; everyday jauntiness with VisitMôr

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By Beth Môrafon

Beth Môrafon is Chair of the Association for Heritage Interpretation (AHI) and founding Director of VisitMôr a visitor experience consultancy based in the South West. For 20 years, she worked across the UK and overseas with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and WWT Consulting.

Happy World Poetry Day, or should I say heartfelt World Poetry Day; after all, the day is a global marker to celebrate inherent compassion and emotional range within our human condition.

Personal or professional, I’m one of many who have explored poetry for self-expression, albeit quietly. For me, writing is a way to process experiences and emotions. It can build structure in the deepest voids.

Within an audience, poetry can transcend the author and intent. It can strike the jugular – urging emotion, connection, and self-reflection. Sometimes it soaks up gaping emptiness or builds bridges across unfathomable ravines. In a world littered with stimulants, pacifiers, and sincerity blockers, poetry can re-electrify the integrity of the soul.

Collage of Beth Morafon and the SignEd work she has done
VisitMôr Director and SignEd innovator, Beth Môrafon (VisitMôr)

These days I seldom write poetry; but in leisure, I soak up lyrics, spectate spoken word, and peruse pamphlets. But, perhaps the main way I advocate for poetry is by living curatorially. Bear with me here, as I carefully spin a thread of links, to somehow breach the chasm. As a visitor experience designer and artist, I try to live poetically, drawing significance from all my encounters. I weave together the random bits of life – line up rows of insignificant shrapnel – and bind them into something that feels valuable, precious, and wrought from more than the sum of its parts.

Still, I hear you ask, what does living poetically mean? It's best described through my sector of natural and cultural heritage interpretation work. Tilden, who coined the term interpretation, described it as:

“An educational activity which aims to reveal meanings and relationships through the use of original objects, by firsthand experience, and by illustrative media, rather than simply to communicate factual information.”

As illustrated, the role of an interpreter is not simply to provide a scientific understanding; first and foremost an interpreter must reveal meaning and relationship – in effect, Tilden’s definition prioritises poetic relation over scientific function.

And it seems I’ve taken this to heart. Not just in the way I approach my work as an interpretation consultant, but also in the way I engage with the world. I seek to create meaningful experiences to support my interests and values.

So, how does this apply in day-to-day life? It’s done by taking delight in the small things; connecting with the senses. Enjoying and noting a fabulous colour, a sound, or a conversation. It might be feeling refreshed by rain on my face or wind in my hair. And across the year, it’s the bigger spectacles that mark the calendar with beacons of joy – opportunities to celebrate and thread together heritage, connection, and insight.

The most recent highlight occurred last October, at AHI’s first in-person conference in three years. Set in the Hilton Garden Inn in Snowdonia National Park, it felt like a gleaming jewel of joy, set within the arc of another post-pandemic year. Aptly named The Connection/ Y Cysylltiad, it provided an opportunity for heritage professionals to join together and celebrate the sector with all the merriment of forgone times.

The event opened with a beautiful keynote from Andrew White, Wales Director of the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF). He shared how an open definition of heritage has helped communities build meaningful connections in Wales and across the UK. Drawing on rich case studies, he shared principles and examples of working with young people and hard-to-reach communities.

Collage of images showing workshops and people at a conference in Snowdonia
Delegates, workshops and site visits from The Connection/ Y Cysylltiad AHI Conference in Snowdonia National park, October 2022 (Beth Môrafon/Damon Mahoney/AHI)

Conference site visits included the spectacular Great Orme and Penrhyn Castle, industrial Blaenau Ffestiniog, the Deep Mine Tour of Llechwedd Quarry, and a walking tour around Dolgarrog on the Rural Conwy Sacred Trails route.

A rich palette of parallel sessions preceded and followed. Workshops and presentations included Cadw’s 15-minute Heritage which gave members of the public a way to interpret heritage on their doorsteps. There were exciting games workshops by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and Upstart Theatre. In addition, Bath Preservation Trust shared ways to re-interpret colonial heritage at Beckford’s Tower through community engagement, and Wrexham Museum and Haley Sharpe Design presented how they developed A (football) Museum of Two Halves.

I led a micro-workshop for participants to interpret the wildlife of The Great Orme. It advocated SignEd, an online platform and image library for organisations to design bespoke educational signs and games.

Inspired by the beauty of this event, and whilst anticipating the next AHI conference, I plan to pilgrimage a week-long constellation of sparkling heritage events throughout May. The tour starts in London’s Olympia with the Museum + Heritage Show. Here I’ll co-present an AHI Best Practice Guide. I intend to follow with a tour of pastel-coloured World Heritage Sites and presentations in Sighișoara, Romania for the Interpret Europe conference. Themed on UNESCO landscapes, it will be perfect for a proposed paper submission. Finally, back in the UK there’s the Heritage Trade Up residential in York, to connect with heritage leaders from across the UK – part of a year-long programme run by School for Social Entrepreneurs.

It feels fitting to be celebrating the power of poetry whilst planning a grand tour of heritage events including the forthcoming October AHI conference in Lincoln; after all World Poetry Day was founded at the 30th UNESCO conference in Paris.

As I round up these poetic journeys of significance and heritage, from Snowdonian stories to Romanian rambles, I’m reminded of a fragment of poetic programming featured in the BBC’s the Art That Made Us. In it, Poet Laureate Simon Armitage beautifully describes an ancient poem about a father’s loss. Set on a riverbank, somewhere between wake and dream, the poem’s Medieval author relives in anguish the death of his daughter Pearl. The pain of the imagery and his longing words pierce through time. Five centuries on, Armitage is so moved by the chasm of loss described within, he explains, "I'm not sure there is a more intricate and accomplished poem in the whole of English literature”. For me, this moment – this exquisite interpretation – intertwines the long threads that connect heritage, poetry, and interpretation. The segment demonstrates the richness that can be borne by living and experiencing life poetically and purposefully.

Do you want to create meaningful stories in your environment? Get in touch to book a FREE 30-minute interpretation consultation or try a one-month FREE SignEd trial.

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Posted On: 14/03/2023

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