Pandora’s wine box

A poem by Tom Denbigh

Tom Denbigh was commissioned by the Gallery to write a poem inspired by the new hang in Room 16: Technological Transformations 1750-1850. Denbigh is a poet and playwright based in Bristol, and is also a climate change scientist. He is a winner of BBC Words First and has headlined stages around the UK and abroad. His inspiration for this poem was looking at the industrial revolution and this creative age as if it were a party - including the unintended consequences and the inevitable carbon hangover of that time.


Pandora’s wine box

the first thing you see are the many empty lager cans
free roaming over the rug
sheltering under the old velvet sofa

the second thing you notice is the mess
half of the globe
are covered in great silver tracks and soot stains
which can only mean
that Watt and Stephenson
got at the tequila

the screech of trains
the gentle groans of the room
which is unnaturally warm
due to the great clouds of steam
which drip onto backs of Lovelace and Babbage
who are groggily half on, half off the sofa
and have made out of ring pulls
a computer
(whatever that is)

above them is
a lot of above actually;
the ceiling has been replaced
by a thousand new stars
thanks to
Somerville and the Herschels

as you lean on the wall
you notice
a faint touch
of coal dust
that looks like it will take forever to clean up

you rather suspect
that things got a bit out of control
like a runaway train

you can feel
the room is bigger now
but smaller too

you see a future changed

you hope it is not stained, nor cooked too much

mainly though
you hope someone
shares the stories
you can tell
it must have been one hell of a party