Unique and experimental poem by AHC professor features in major new exhibition

A powerful and experimental poem by a Professor of Poetry at the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Arts, Humanities & Cultures features in a major new exhibition opening in Dublin, Ireland.

MOTHERBABYHOME (2019) by Professor Kimberly Campanello from the School of English features prominently in the Common Room at the Museum of Literature’s ‘Is This a Poem?’ exhibition, which explores ‘poetry’s furthest frontiers’.

MOTHERBABYHOME tackles what is known as the Tuam babies scandal – an unmarked mass grave of children and babies discovered at St Mary’s Mother and Baby Home, a former state and religious institution that held unmarried mothers and their children in Tuam, Ireland, from 1926-1961. The home was one of many in Ireland and in the UK. MOTHERBABYHOME is formed entirely from archives, media, survivor accounts and historical sources, and each of its 796 pages contains the name, age and date of death of one of the children.

MOTHERBABYHOME (2019) features prominently in the Museum of Literature's 'Is This a Poem?' Exhibition

MOTHERBABYHOME (2019) features prominently in the Museum of Literature's 'Is This a Poem?' Exhibition

Professor Campanello’s intervention in this subject has been described by poet Pádraig Ó Tuama as ‘a confrontation, a lamentation, a powerful objection and a revolution’ and by critic Adam Hanna as ‘enact[ing] new forms [that demonstrate how] poems can be, in the words of John Keats that Seamus Heaney quoted in “Writer and Righter”, “a remembrance”’.

The poems are printed on transparent vellum and held in a handmade oak box in a limited edition of six, one of which is held by the University of Leeds’ Brotherton Special Collections. The item on display at the Museum of Ireland belongs to University College Dublin.

I am honoured to have my work at Ireland’s national museum dedicated to literature and for MOTHERBABHOME to be an ongoing presence that highlights the importance of valuing survivors’ voices and at last listening to their perspectives on these traumas, which are still unfolding. An email to me from a reader who was in one of the homes says: “Thank you again for producing such a wonderful testament to an issue that is far from resolved and that impacts on so many women and on the larger society in Ireland. To quote from your work, 'The wall is arbitrary'. Time to dismantle it fully."

Kimberly Campanello, Professor of Poetry at the School of English

The controversy over the fate of the hundreds of children who died while resident in the home made international headlines in 2014 and MOTHERBABYHOME was first published in 2019 when investigations were under way into what happened. Campanello performed the work over three hours at the Oonagh Young Gallery on James Joyce Street in Dublin that same year. In January 2020 Campanello performed a recording of the complete work for the Irish Poetry Reading Archive (University College Dublin).

The exhibition, curated by Christodoulos Makris, will run until July 2024.