The House of Everything
’Your museum is permanently magical… some in poems have raised fine architectural edifices, but most rare have been those who… have built a poem.’ – Isaac D’Israeli to Sir John Soane, 1838
Universally captivating, Sir John Soane’s Museum in London is a labyrinth of evocation and imagination. The result of a first ever poetic residency there, The House of Everything takes the reader on a personal and allusive trail through this labyrinth, opening up the museum’s spaces and collections through spellbinding words and images.
Post pandemic, and as the building re-opens its doors, there’s no better time to be reminded of the power of museums and what they mean to us all. This book captures not just the tragic story of the 18th century self-made man who created this ‘house/museum’ and the extraordinary objects he gathered within its walls, but most importantly what it says about our universal desire to leave a mark in space and time.
The House of Everything is conceived as a loose navigation from room to room, taking in the crypt with its glowing alabaster sarcophagus of Seti I (too expensive for the British Museum to buy, but not for Soane!), the picture gallery unfolding its all-too-close-to home story of Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress, the Monk’s parlour (dwelling of a completely fictitious gothic monk), the airy delights of the decorated breakfast room, right up to the Turner-yellow drawing rooms.
No matter if you have never visited the place before – the texts are intercut with a series of striking collages made by the poet himself. They mix archive imagery of the house with contemporary visuals and help locate the reader in his/her passage through the house. And along the way we meet Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, the modern-day creator of the pantone colour chart, a bunch of Cluedo players, some drunken glitterati, and the artist Michael Landy who famously destroyed all his possessions. They all help conjure the unique message of this book: how to make material our elusive dreams and imaginings.
’This book builds itself into a series of collages, images intricately overlaid to illuminate one other. The poems move lightly, not just from room to room, but between the chambers of the heart, through shadowed spaces to jewelled windows to doors that might let in the rivers of the world.
With a kind of austere precision, Robert Seatter suggests the collector’s passion as well as the knowledge that the object of desire will always be just out of reach, lost before it can be grasped. In his house made of poems, we come to ‘know/what we are made of and almost who we are’. – Imtiaz Dharker
’We were delighted to have Robert Seatter as our first poet in residence at Sir John Soane’s Museum. His work brilliantly captures the experience of exploring Soane’s romantic and picturesque home with its complex layers of allusion and illusion, interpreting this famous place and its collections in new, surprising and emotive ways.‘ – Helen Dorey, Deputy Director and Inspectress, Sir John Soane’s Museum
Watch Robert reading from the collection at the online launch:
Thanks to Sir John Soane's Museum for giving us permission to share their images during the event.