Sunday, 30 September 2012
This is another painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw, depicting Chelsea in London. I think that you can expect to see Grimshaw at least occasionally on this blog when I write about London.
I'm still browing and reading through London: A History in Verse, edited by Mark Ford. This anthology really does capture the spirit of London - its events, places and people - across centuries. It is the dark and the light; I wonder if any other city has so much of each. Unified and scattered, sinister and exhilarating - I think London's poetry may carry its essence even more so than its art or photography, for instance. (But then, I would think that...) What fascinates me is that certain themes seem to flow down the centuries and recur so frequently. These include the city as a brooding, dark personality made up of tiny fluttering voices; the underground nature of London, whether that's the actual London Underground or its hidden and lost rivers; and the use of names, its streets and squares and boroughs, with an almost totemic power.
2012 is by some reckoning the 100th anniversary of the Imagist movement in poetry. This enormously influential movement, which helped to launch modernist poetry, concentrated on "clarity of expression through the use of precise visual images." Its early proponents included Ezra Pound and T E Hulme.
Another poet deeply involved in the Imagist movement was Amy Lowell (1874-1925). She was a highly prolific American poet (and businesswoman) who moved between the US and the UK, working to promote the Imagist movement in American poetry. She is now perhaps best known as a critic and anthologist, and as someone associated with more famous figures, but her poetry is wonderful in its own right and is recognised for its variety and sensuality.
This poem, 'A London Throughfare. 2 A.M.', is a bleak portrayal of the city, very closely observed. This is the city as state of mind, reflecting isolation and radiating hostility. It is easy to imagine that under similar circumstances, another poet (or even the same poet in a different frame of mind) might see the scene as beautiful. The fact that Lowell sees the distant moon as a friend, and the city as alien, is very telling.
A LONDON THROUGHFARE. 2 A.M. (Amy Lowell)
They have watered the street,
It shines in the glare of lamps,
Cold, white lamps,
Like a slow-moving river,
Barred with silver and black.
Cabs go down it,
And then another,
Between them I hear the shuffling of feet.
Tramps doze on the window-ledges,
Night-walkers pass along the sidewalks.
The city is squalid and sinister,
With the silver-barred street in the midst,
A river leading nowhere.
Opposite my window,
The moon cuts,
Clear and round,
Through the plum-coloured night.
She cannot light the city:
It is too bright.
It has white lamps,
And glitters coldly.
I stand in the window and watch the moon.
She is thin and lustreless,
But I love her.
I know the moon,
And this is an alien city.
Thursday, 27 September 2012
A couple of weeks ago, Inpress sponsored a Poetry Garden at London's Southbank, to celebrate their 10th anniversary. This included readings from various of their poets, but I totally failed to get out of bed in time (ie. I got up really, really, really late) and missed the readings. It was still pleasant to drop by, though, and see the tables of poetry books and the Poetry Bouquets, featuring real flowers adorned with quotations from Rilke (appropriately) and others.
I ended up buying Kim Moore's pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves. It was quite prominently displayed as she'd been reading earlier, but the title drew my eye, and when I had a peek inside I realised that I was likely to enjoy it. I later got in touch with Moore and asked if I could reproduce one of the poems on my blog, which she kindly gave me permission to do.
Moore is from Barrow-in-Furness in Lancashire, and the imagery of many of the poems is distinctly northern. When I read 'Sometimes You Think of Bowness', I remembered my visit to Windermere and Bowness in the Lake District, some years ago. Most of that weekend the weather was good, and I was quite taken with the Lake District's beauty; a bit like north Wales, but softer. It rained when we went to Windermere and Bowness and a picture of that afternoon came back to me through these lines:
[...] but mostly you think of the people, drawn to water,
and how it looks in the rain, as if the very shops
are made of water, of ducking into a doorway
and carrying the smell of rain inside.
The title poem, 'If We Could Speak Like Wolves', has the muscular power of the creatures it describes:
[...] if a mistake could be followed
by instant retribution and end with you
rolling over to expose the stubble and grace
of your throat [...]
It builds and builds to the payoff at the end; this is not just a stunning portrait of wild animals, but a picture of a relationship "more simple than marriage." The poem works as a kind of slanted nature poem, but the final lines make the reader see it all in a new light.
I loved 'The Wolf' as well, which populates the reader's mind with dark, archetypal images from what seems to be a particularly sinister lost fairytale. 'The Ferryman' goes back to the figure of Charon, who has been much written about, but I found the fusion of modern and mythological imagery especially strong; the dead "sit on chair-shaped rocks,/as if they can still feel the shunt/of the tube", and some carry mobile phones. Again, the ending skilfully calls everything which has led up into it into question, and makes the revisiting of this ancient theme more than worthwhile.
Inevitably, I really loved 'The Rabbit and the Moon'. Kim Moore said she was very pleased I had picked up on the fact that the imagery was drawn from Watership Down; my old obsession, how could I not spot it immediately? She'd been drawn to the cartoon especially, as a child, as I was to the book. This poem weaves in the book's themes beautifully, almost as a travelogue with perspective shifting from humans to animals.
(The painting featured on this entry is, of course, Dürer's famous image. I know that it is actually a hare, but I had it in my mind to go along with this post and it wouldn't go away.)
You can purchase the pamphlet on this link, from The Poetry Business: http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/792/583/If-We-Could-Speak-Like-Wolves-Kim-Moore
THE RABBIT AND THE MOON (Kim Moore)
Let me tell you the story of a high, lonely place
where sight and sound carry with the pylon
that gives its shadow to the hill, and the farm
many fields away, and the long straight road.
A bird calls kehaar, kehaar to the moon
and trains are falling, falling into the night.
The black rabbit waits outside the caravan
and come morning, the booted feet of gulls
will be telling us to leave, but if we stay,
the dogs will lie like rugs at our feet.
Somewhere, there are other rabbits, and a river
to sail away on. Somewhere, there's a boat.
Poem © Kim Moore, 2012. Used by permission.
Sunday, 23 September 2012
Artwork © Justin Wiggan, 2012
I haven't actually met Justin Wiggan in person yet, but he is a friend of friends and in recent months we have been occasionally corresponding about publishing-related matters. (I'm pretty sure he thinks I am more of an expert than I actually am.) Working as a visual artist, sound artist and writer, he strikes me as one of those people with the enviable capacity to perceive the world in an endless variety of artistic mediums.
Justin gave me permission to reproduce one of his poems, 'Our Moment Has Come', on my blog, and it appears below, along with his biography and artistic approach in his own words. I had to wait a little bit before I realised which poet his work reminded me of; it was Edith Sitwell, author of 'Still Falls The Rain' and 'The Shadow of Cain'. The latter had an enormous impact on me when I stumbled across it in university. Sitwell wrote about events such as the London Blitz and the use of atomic bombs in language which was apocalyptic, violent and perceptive about the two-edged nature of scientific progress. To me, Justin's poem similarly evokes a poisoned earth whose physical symptoms indicate the moral and emotional decay of society.
OUR MOMENT HAS COME (Justin Wiggan)
A decade after killing by fire, lightning and gravity,
The power of the permanent plague has been observed by soldiers and scientists,
In legendary forests broken and discarded.
Here they study dead fathers cloned,
Here they discard the map of their youth, a youth sacrificed on black needles in slow streams.
Their dogs howl and bark with nose-bleeds at the transmission of a delayed and promised light.
The "Wish Machine" holds them dying in a finite part of the lower order.
These greatest scholars deny the sun across the sky,
These greatest scholars deny the phases of the moon,
These greatest scholars deny the swing of a pendulum,
And the beat of a heart.
Their guilt is dragged through meadows,
As rain falls where a ceiling once was.
Their dialogue is crippled, and cannot walk unaided and falls to the floor.
Justin Wiggan was born in Burnley, Lancashire and studied Fine Art BA at UCE. He works in a variety of guises, predominantly as a sound artist with Darren Joyce as Dreams of Tall Buildings, and also as a visual artist. Wiggan is currently completing his first book of poetry, Of Bulls and Mathematicians.
The works are artefacts and documents of his reaction to the shouts, screams, shrieks, wails, hoots, howls, death rattles and sobs that are all soaked up by his surrounding unfinished structure of space. His body of work engages with swollen cityscapes, human moral struggle, and discovering the links between the internal tourist and the external explorer. One cuts the path through conviction and belief, the other gnaws on the path for convenience. These investigations embrace a sense of evolution and eradication of a problem that goes way beyond cultural breakdown, addressing the problem with an end of a system.
Our culture is reduced, our hands are tied.
Wiggan employs a method of "encasement", a writing philosophy developed from cut up techniques, where the text is generated on the meaning of the title and mapped out via research and shaped organically. This method allows the rich meaning encased in each word to dominate the narrative of the piece at times revealing shockingly solid truths through chance. He is fascinated by the noise in the reader's head.
More of his work can be found on these websites:
Poem and biography © Justin Wiggan, 2012
Sunday, 16 September 2012
JERUSALEM (William Blake)
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.
The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games ran from late July until early September. It is hard to believe that it is all over, and equally hard to believe that everything went so well; I don't want to say "flawlessly", but some have definitely said so. The forecasted transport apocalypse didn't happen (in fact, it tended to be weirdly quiet away from the venues) and most everyone had a jolly good time. In fact, we all beheld the extraordinary spectacle of the British gushing uncontrollably about the awesomeness of their green and pleasant land, their people, and especially their athletes. I was less surprised when this happened during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, because Canadians can be pretty gushy about Canada anyway, but the default for the Brits is usually self-deprecation at best about Britain.
At the start of the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, a boy soprano sang Blake's 'Jerusalem', in its famous musical setting by Sir Hubert Parry. This was utterly predictable and still very moving. 'Jerusalem' is taken from the much longer Milton a Poem, and describes a story wherein the young Jesus Christ visited England. There is no historical basis for this story, but it is a beautiful poem and piece of music. It is time for me to admit that I first came to it through Emerson, Lake & Palmer's version, during my prolonged progressive rock period in my teens. I still hear Palmer's mad drumming in the background.
'Jerusalem' is a piece very beloved of the British, or at least the English. I have been present when it's played or sung and it offers a rare glimpse of naked emotion in the English, as well as being rather mystical and somewhat bonkers. These were qualities that also came to the fore during the Games - Britain performed extremely well in both the Olympics and the Paralympics. Although poetry's voice was heard in various ways during these Games - modern poems scattered around the Olympic Park, glimpses of verse during the Ceremonies - this old poem by the great and strange Blake still represents the spirit of the Games, to me.
I spent both the Olympics and the Paralympics either quite involved, or rather detached. It seemed as though I was either in the thick of things, or catching glimpses from a distance. The Torch went right past my window in south London on a day when I was at home, and that was quite exciting. Also predictably, these were mainly Horse Games, for me. I managed to snag tickets for both Olympic and Paralympic dressage, both of which were cheap and utterly irresistible. The Olympic dressage was at Grand Prix level and was extraordinarily beautiful and skilled - these horses are the Cadillacs of the equine world. Here is Britain's Carl Hester on Uthopia, part of the gold-medal-winning team:
The Paralympic dressage featured riders with a variety of disabilities, generally involving inability to use their legs or one side of their body, due to spinal injuries, cerebral palsy and so on - one rider was actually born without legs. Here, the wonder was at watching an extraordinary sympathy between horse and rider under difficult circumstances, although the movements were less complex than in the Olympic competition. I found both events very moving, in somewhat different ways. Here is Britain's Natasha Baker on Cabral, the gold medallist:
I also went out with a friend to Box Hill in Surrey to see the women's cycling road race, which involved walking 45 minutes up a fairly steep hill, getting rained on, dodging a thunderstorm and then broiled by the sun, cheering our heads off for every competitor, and generally having a very fun day out.
As far as detachment, I don't have TV at home, so I missed a lot of the coverage. Still, I enjoyed some events on big screens set up in public places, including near my work, and there was a generally festive atmosphere. I'm not that devoted to most summer sports anyway (a lot of Canadians prefer the Winter Games and I fall into that category). It was also particularly nice to see how cheerful, helpful and obliging virtually all the staff, volunteers, police, military, etc involved in the Games were. I really feel that post-Games London could benefit from trying to keep at least a bit of that spirit going.
In a sense I was relieved when it was all over, as I tend to worry about issues surrounding security; perhaps overhyped like all the other negative aspects. On the other hand, now the autumn and winter are stretching ahead and looking darker every day. I think I need to ensure that the coming months are filled with things that are important, fun, or both.
Thursday, 13 September 2012
Tonight I went to a lecture by David Harsent on the poetry of Seamus Heaney. It is part of a series where writers speak about writers who have their portrait in the National Portrait Gallery. (Apparently David Harsent does, as well, although there was a slight ripple of laughter when the woman introducing Harsent said "...although his portrait is not on display right now." Harsent looked unfazed.)
Harsent focused in on female figures in Heaney's poetry, from his mother and aunts to his wife. I enjoyed the lecture partly because it was a mix of poems I knew well - 'Mossbawn: Sunlight', 'The Skunk' - and some I hardly knew, including 'Summer Home'. The latter is a really interesting portrait of a marriage under considerable strain while on holiday, which isn't really Heaney's usual territory. (I actually feel that Heaney just seems like a pretty normal man with pretty normal interpersonal relationships.)
MOSSBAWN: SUNLIGHT (Seamus Heaney)
I liked Harsent's close reading of this poem, its quiet inaction but also the reverence with which it moves across the ordinary-but-strange impressions of childhood, anchored by the ordinary-but-archetypal image of his aunt. You can see the sunlight touching the poem's objects, and the hands of his aunt.
The arc of the lecture travelled from 'Summer Home' to 'The Skunk', a poem I've loved for a long time. I think I read it shortly after reading 'The Otter', which is a similar strange, beguiling, erotic poem about his wife, pivoting on an animal image. I was probably in junior high when I first read these and they have always delighted me, but they are also pretty weird. I wonder what Heaney's wife thought when he showed them to her. 'The Skunk' is about romance revived by distance and by strange, intense mental and emotional connections.
It all came back to me last night, stirred
By the sootfall of your things at bedtime,
Your head-down, tail-up hunt in a bottom drawer
For the black plunge-line nightdress.
(from 'The Skunk', Seamus Heaney)
Speaking of strange love poems, I was reminded of the supremely disturbing 'Spatchcock', one of David Harsent's own poems.
SPATCHCOCK (David Harsent)
David Harsent would have to be one of my favourite contemporary British poets. I've heard him read his superb poems about bees at a special event on that very subject, and most recently he read at the T S Eliot Prize event for 2012 - I was hoping he would win (he didn't, but for what it's worth I think he should have.)
The first time I heard him read was a few years ago, and I think it was at a Poetry London event. One of the poems which he read was 'Spatchcock'. In all honesty, poetry readings sometimes aren't that interesting. The poets are not always the best presenters of their own poems and sometimes the poems are a little too accomplished, reserved and emotionally dry to take me much anywhere. (That is partly why free wine is often provided, I am sure.) However, when David Harsent started reading 'Spatchcock' I think every jaw in the house went slightly slack and every eye widened at least a little. I was frankly shocked at first, before I could see where he was going with it (I had not read the poem before hearing it, and I was unfamiliar with the word 'spatchcock' - I think it's more English than North American.) Then I was faintly amused; but in any case, the power of the poem didn't leave me and it led me on to some of his other work - including the brilliant Night collection, which was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize. Again, I have to wonder what his wife thought when she read 'Spatchcock'. Honestly, some poets...
Sunday, 9 September 2012
The above is one of the famous rose designs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Scottish artist, designer and architect who worked in the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements.
I've translated two more of Rilke's French poems from the Roses sequence. I am finding the attempt to preserve some kind of rhyme scheme rather challenging; part of me feels that if I can't do the rhyme scheme just as it was in the original, I shouldn't bother. I have not quite made up my mind about this yet but I think I will continue for now with the partial rhyme scheme.
Again, I have included my translations and the originals below.
THE ROSES (Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from French by Clarissa Aykroyd)
You, oh rose, perfect in excellence,
infinite in completeness
and infinitely open, head
of a body absent by its sweetness,
nothing can match you, supreme essence
of this floating daydream;
love's moment where we stay still,
through which your perfume streams.
I believe it was we who told you
to fill your chalice.
Enchanted by this artifice,
your beauty dared to do it.
You were rich enough to become yourself
one hundred times in a single flower;
this is the lover's condition...
But you did not think to look elsewhere.
Rose, toi, ô chose par excellence complète
qui se contient infiniment
et qui infiniment se répand, ô tête
d’un corps par trop de douceur absent,
rien ne te vaut, ô toi, suprême essencede ce flottant séjour;
de cet espace d’amour où à peine l’on avance
ton parfum fait le tour.
C’est pourtant nous qui t’avons proposé
de remplir ton calice.
Enchantée de cet artifice,
ton abondance l’avait osé.
Tu étais assez riche, pour devenir cent fois toi-mêmeen une seule fleur;
c’est l’état de celui qui aime...
Mais tu n’as pas pensé ailleurs.
Translations © Clarissa Aykroyd. Not to be reproduced without permission
Wednesday, 5 September 2012
There are plans afoot in London to erect a statue to Isaac Rosenberg, one of England's great World War I poets. He grew up in the East End and studied in Bloomsbury, and the statue is planned for Torrington Square. Rosenberg studied at nearby Birkbeck College and the Slade School of Fine Art (he was also an artist).
I'm quite fond of what I've read of Rosenberg's work. It is rather modern in outlook, and poignant but not too innocent. Tonight I wanted to post a poem by Rosenberg, and another by Humbert Wolfe. They are both about the brief glimmer of hope and beauty brought to men in the trenches by the sound of birdsong. Rosenberg fought and died in the trenches, and I think Wolfe's participation in the war was at a greater distance, but these poems seem to spring from a similar source.
This photograph is French, and the soldier is sleeping, not dead. How difficult it must have been to sleep under such circumstances I can hardly imagine. Whenever I have seen trench warfare depicted in films and so on, I always think of how extremely far it must have been from the reality. I probably haven't seen any films sufficiently violent and explicit enough to depict anything really close to the reality; and even then, how close could they come?
Here are the poems: 'Returning, We Hear the Larks' by Isaac Rosenberg, and 'A Thrush in the Trenches' by Humbert Wolfe. (The Wolfe poem made me think of Thomas Hardy's 'The Darkling Thrush', too.)
RETURNING, WE HEAR THE LARKS (Isaac Rosenberg)
Sombre the night is.
And though we have our lives, we know
What sinister threat lurks there.
Dragging these anguished limbs, we only know
This poison-blasted track opens on our camp -
On a little safe sleep.
But hark! joy - joy - strange joy.
Lo! heights of night ringing with unseen larks.
Music showering on our upturned list'ning faces.
Death could drop from the dark
As easily as song -
But song only dropped,
Like a blind man's dreams on the sand
By dangerous tides,
Like a girl's dark hair for she dreams no ruin lies there,
Or her kisses where a serpent hides.
A THRUSH IN THE TRENCHES (Humbert Wolfe)
Suddenly he sang across the trenches,
vivid in the fleeting hush
as a star-shell through the smashed black branches,
a more than English thrush.
Suddenly he sang, and those who listened
nor moved nor wondered, but
heard, all bewitched, the sweet unhastened
One crouched, a muddied rifle clasping,
and one filled a grenade,
but little cared they, while he went lisping
the one clear tune he had.
Paused horror, hate and Hell a moment,
(you could almost hear the sigh)
and still he sang to them, and so went
(suddenly) singing by.
Sunday, 2 September 2012
This painting is by John Atkinson Grimshaw, a Victorian painter whose works have elements of the Pre-Raphaelites and JMW Turner. He is well known for his cityscapes, including London, Leeds, Liverpool and Glasgow, and he is set to become one of my favourite artists, I think. This particular work shows a street in Borough, south London.
On 27 July 2012, as far as I've been able to ascertain (from looking up my old BMI flight reservations), it was seven years since I moved to London - which means that I am only about a month late with this entry. It was an odd day; hardly what I would have expected. Two days earlier I had suffered a mishap at home when a sharp-edged object fell over and left me with a nasty cut on my face. The NHS, bless them, offered me a plastic surgeon, so 27 July found me at St Thomas's Hospital to get stitched up. It was also the day of the Opening Ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympics (perhaps worth an entry in itself, especially if I can find an appropriate poem.) I later watched some of it at home, feeling a bit miserable, but I found the British history section spectacular and moving.
Too many posts about London already, you might be thinking, but it's a well that never runs dry for me. There can never be an end to writing, thinking and dreaming about a great city, as well as just getting out into its streets and experiencing it. When I moved, I thought it likely that I would stay longer than my time in Dublin - three years - but I surpassed that long ago, and I don't have plans to leave. I'm one of those misfits of the world who is more at home in London than anywhere else, it seems.
I recently read Craig Taylor's Londoners, subtitled The Days and Nights of London Now - As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It and Long for It. Craig Taylor is a Vancouver Islander who has adopted London, just like me (although I hasten to add that he is from Nanaimo, and I am from Victoria. I met him briefly at a publishing networking event a few years ago and we chatted a little, mainly about the ex-pat thing and the Island. He had dared to say something about the class-ridden nature of the publishing industry, which mostly met with embarrassed looks and nervous giggles. I nearly cheered.) Not surprisingly, I found the book totally beguiling - even the commentaries by people who hate the place. There was so much that was familiar in it, but seen through a variety of different lenses. The City boy, the airline pilot, the dominatrix - it was rather odd to find echoes of my own feelings and my London moments in these lives. There were passages which I found incredibly resonant, almost as though they'd been taken straight out of my brain:
Places make the best lovers. You can trust a place more than you can trust a person as a lover. A place is more dependable and it has so much depth and stimulation and provides you with the opportunity to realize yourself. The place reflects you, provides you with stimulation, the ability to realize potential. If it's a good place it makes you feel stronger, makes you cleverer and more powerful. I did a walk with someone from the centre of the City to Soho, just taking a beeline, and on that walk ended up going into the Temple Church in the middle of the Temples so I was back in the twelfth century after already having gone into the Black Friar pub, an Arts and Crafts pub, and walking through the centre of Covent Garden and ending up in a Chinese restaurant having dim sum. Now there are not many people who can give you that much stimulation, but being with a person and having the ability to have that friend, London, as a companion throughout gives you a wonderful extra dimension to anything you do. I think of London as a partner. I'm in love with London and always have been. (Peter Rees, City Planning Officer, City of London)
The trouble with this sort of thing - which I find almost entirely true - is that it can feel as though the city is becoming your primary relationship: basically, not good. But very seductive. If there's such a thing as taking a drug in moderation, that would have to be the way to approach London. (I am told by someone who knows, from past experience, that London is like heroin.) When I went back to Canada for a visit a few months ago, I told an old family friend that London pulls you into its patterns and rhythms and tides so that you find yourself breathing in tune with it. Which is both exciting, and sinister.
There was also a passage in Craig Taylor's introduction, where he describes his own London experience, which was extremely familiar:
I hadn't yet become an urban otter - one of those sleek Londoners who moves through the city with ease. They're the ones who seem slow and graceful but are always covering ground, who cross streets without looking back and forth; who know how to fold a newspaper crisply in the middle of a packed Tube train. (Craig Taylor)
Maybe I flatter myself, but I'm pretty sure I've become an urban otter. The best way to move through London is like breathing, like water is your element. I tread more lightly than I used to and I've found ways to flow through a crowd on an Underground platform without hardly touching anyone (these sometimes involve dislocating your hips from your torso - but it's strangely like a dance.) Passing the six-month point in London is pivotal. At that moment, I started to feel like I had a few friends; I also noticed that I was scanning my environment in a different way, and building a sort of transparent/semi-permeable wall around myself, something which allowed me to be more detached and more involved than ever before. Certainly, after years in London you react quite differently to the news of violent crime just down the street than you do during the first six months.
Another recent acquisition is the poetry anthology London, compiled by Mark Ford. It traces London's history and people and life in poetry, from ancient times to the present. I've only dipped into it so far and look forward to further exploration. London is drenched in poetry and this is how I see it, increasingly. It is both a way to shelter myself from harsh realities, and a way to get further and further in, closer to the heart (or hearts) of the city. This summer, during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, there has been a soundscape installation on the Millenium Bridge called Tales from the Bridge. It samples contemporary and historic literature and poetry to give glimpses of the city - mainly the Thames - through the spoken word. I stopped by to experience it recently, and found it quite intriguing.
I've picked out a few London poems which add to the richness of the city's tapestry, and which have a few familiar echoes, as well.
Tamar Yoseloff's 'London Particular' seems very much to be from the city-as-state-of-mind tradition. Sometimes you can see someone's face wherever you look, and all else fades. This poem captures a good deal of London's bleaker aspects, I think. Strangely, it also made me think of my Finnish grandfather, who I never knew because he died before I was born. He was briefly in London in the 1950s when London experienced one of its last pea-souper fogs (or "London particular"). I could very much see him as the gentleman in this poem.
'London Pastoral' by Tobias Hill, another contemporary London poet, is gentler but still gritty. I recognise its smell: "hallways sweet/with the residue of road-tar." London is such a juxtaposition of the ugly and dirty, and the beautiful; this poem is a good example.
Finally, this strange, sad poem by T E Hulme really touches me. The darkness and the bright glancing sparks of it are very London. Hulme was mainly a critic and sometimes a poet, and died on the front in Belgium in 1917.
THE EMBANKMENT (T E Hulme)
(The Fantasia of a Fallen Gentleman on a Cold, Bitter Night)
Once, in finesse of fiddles found I ecstasy,
In a flash of gold heels on the hard pavement.
Now see I
That warmth's the very stuff of poesy.
Oh, God, make small
The old star-eaten blanket of the sky,
That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie.