Poems and photos inspired by the ‘Poem of the Street’ workshop

Hicks, Victoria photo 1
Above, Tradescant tomb, by Victoria Hicks. Top, Lambeth Walk ex-pub, by Greg Freeman.

On  Saturday 31 Oct 2015 – a glorious sunny Halloween – Hercules Editions publishers Vici MacDonald and Tamar Yoseloff led a group of writers and visual artists on an urban walk around Lambeth North, where William Blake once lived. Along a short but varied route, the poetry party encountered old soldiers,  bombed churches, rising hotels, closed-down pubs, memorials to Charlie Chaplin and Captain Bligh, the tomb of the Tradescents, a tract of hidden parkland, an  unruly brassica (a nice reminder of Blake’s era, when the area was market gardens), and a characterful cat. Along the way everyone took photographic notes, which then inspired a new poem or prose piece, written after the walk. Below are the final texts and photos, one by each walker; and there’s a fuller report of the day here

• Contributions presented in reverse alphabetical order.

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Andrea Robinson

All Souls

The streets are paved with fallen leaves
– yellowed drifts, tawny, brindled orange,
tyger brown. If I were a cat
I would sprawl in unexpected heat,
paw at the mind-your-own-business
that carpets Paradise Road.
I’d stalk a path to the cleric’s park
where back in August I found a frog
faded into the ground
becoming its own shadow.
Now it is late in the year yet still
the crocus flowers burst through
– white ghosts jostling to rejoin the living.
Down by the madhouse and red in the sunlight
the past speaks to me: Change your life it says.
I’ll change my colours like the leaves
no longer on these trees.
I’ll rub my burning coat against the hoardings
as I pass, marking out my territory.

Robinson, Andrea pic 2

* * * * * * * * * *
Sarah Pletts

In Blake’s Footsteps

One footstep on the journey
A one way ticket
Towards immeasurable death
Time made solid
In memory of
A pedestrian, personal
Mark in corporate
Concrete – unauthorised

One feather landed
Innocent reminder
Of nature’s flight
Biding its time
In the cracks despite
Warnings of danger
Where children must not play
Clipping the wings of pigeons and angels

Pletts, Sarah pic

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Steph Morris

Quick pee in the War Museum

Shrunk and bursting, I dash
past two whacking guns,
the museum’s defences, semi-erect.

Four minutes inside, time to clock
the planes, trucks, guns, tanks, and toys,
and boys, and their dads.

Relieved, relaxed, reminded, I check the garden.
Clematis ‘Freckles’ flowering by the café wall.
Pretty obvious planting otherwise.

Lavender-lined path down
to the shaved, paved base of the shafts.
Everyone trims it now.

Twin cordylines either side.
Rounded bushy mounds.
Never get out of hand.

Pruning isn’t rocket science;
you just keep things at bay
while still looking natural.

The truck-and-gun boys found it funny
that I never knew the make of a car.
Only the colour.

Then as now I’d have been outside
checking the plants.
Me and my mum.

But now my defences are better.

Morris, Steph photo

* * * * * * * * * *
Kenneth Hyam

Dry Spell

It was in 1831 that spell. It began after a cool spring when North Easterly winds prevented the land from warming up. Suddenly the hottest wave of weather imaginable took over and lasted until September. The Vauxhall Gardens were dry as arrowroot. Beer drinkers survived a typhoid epidemic. An article appeared in The Surrey County Reporter, penned by Lady Ockshott of Ashtead. In it she claimed that a bottle of mineral water had been sold to her under false pretences. She said that the bottle could not contain water as quite clearly the medium in which all of us lived and breathed was itself water “… in itself, by itself and of itself water.” Lady Ockshott was seen by two doctors. The first diagnosed sunstroke and advised rest, the second ordered that she be taken to Bedlam. Once ensconced in her room there, she requested a bathing machine, a request which was at first declined.

A proposal by the Whigs to introduce an extra month of Summer – Jujalia – to be given over to carnival and festivities was met with much good humour and drunkenness. But when it failed to carry through parliament, there followed days of rioting, democracy marches and women’s protests, all of these resulting in chargings, mowings down and massacres. The Fleet ran dry and the Thames retreated back to the edges of Lower Marsh. Then the deluge came, days and nights of it, streams of it, buckets of it, tureens and swimming baths of it. Grown men rode up to their necks on Penny Farthings. The fish escaped from their pools. Parrots squawked victory from church spires. Rats clung to empty beer barrels, and it wouldn’t go away. It just wouldn’t. Many died yet a certain kind of go get’m individual learned to adapt and live in, under and on the water, this new ocean that was London. Gradually the populous became used to their new aqueous medium. Whole generations were born oblivious of the fact that their existence was submarine. And that what they took to be the depths of the river and the sea amounted to no more than layers of sediment.

Life triumphed. It always does. Nowadays hardly anyone notices that they are existing beneath the waves, above the floor of a sea where tall fish go up and down and that these flitting beings are us. If you look up from the London Eye on a clear day you can see the surface shimmering distantly up there like white marble in the sun. Children sometimes dream of an earthly paradise where people walk along sun-baked roads, the dusty roads of summer, and then later of a mass of stars reflected in a still, still pool.

Hyam, Kenneth pic

* * * * * * * * * *
Roger Huddle

Lambeth Walk

I’ve been here before, in the dark, rain stinging flesh: packs of cyclists road racing away on green followed by impatient traffic; light moving: neon bouncing off wet surfaces;

I’ve been a visitor to new Bethlem asylum where warplanes hang by wire from the roof and tanks sit under the stairs but this time I go to the big guns, families eating outside in dappled sunlight; a man taking a long piss by a tree;

I’ve been walking through an ad-hoc mixture of steel, glass, and concrete: end of the year decay, leaves seeming to fall from cranes, diesel oozing from tunnel walls —

I’ve been thinking of light and dark, autumn sunlight and shadows on brick, new reflected in the old, the welcome death in ancient gardens, effigies and icons eaten by acid rain and battered by Reformation hammers.

I’ve been transported into gold:

I’ve watched the arrival of urbane settlers, with their offspring in expensive prams and their smart phones, the poor in hiding, behind overgrown hedges and in towering tower blocks without luxury: Willie Blake in despair, without Hercules, disappears through railway arches and longs to be back in the city north of the Thames but they have occupied there too;

I’ve seen a white on blue one-way arrow aimed at the Pineapple and beyond to a plane travelling to the stars; a sun rises over Kennington Road.

I’ve watched my past at wedding parties where all the ghosts do a drunken Lambeth Walk, back before I was an orphan and time was forever present: we would watch Charlie Chaplin movies on the living room wall at number 51, wonder-eyed kids; film flickering though an antique projector, to the delight of Mr Gresham, so long ago;

I’ve looked in vain for Fletcher Christian, plumb voiced Polynesian lover with come-to-bed eyes, towering in anger over the tyrant Blythe, who now rots in a garden more beautiful than his memory: now thoughts of Brando’s smile on the big screen scatter like yellowing leaves on the wind; leaving I saw the Hydra with seven heads, the Captain’s eternal guardian.

I’ve come here when the day awakens and flowers openly escape through railings surrounding a white house, this lonely sentry beside a main road of puffing heavy traffic, monster lorries hissing air, braking, the cab rocking to a halt;

I’ve seen magical decay, during that moment when trees in the city drop their colour, and each building is framed by their presence, dividing open space with their crooked countenance, their aged bark giving lived in time back to the architecture;

I’ve walked streets unknown: a visit that will become a memory, to be remembered from captured moments taken on route, now filed in virtual space;

I’ve been here in the day, in the night, and in dreams calling the rusting call box in the Lambeth Road, listen: ring ring, ring ring, ring ring.

Huddle, Roger photo sm

* * * * * * * * * *
Ruth Higgins

Necropolis

The London Necropolis Railway opened in 1854 to carry cadavers and mourners between London and Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.

Lock-in at The Lambeth Walk. Coppers wait
for strippers, drinking like there’s no tomorrow. Trains groan
across the weeping bridges.

Down at The Pineapple, Thomas Tiplady
tries a hymn; the barman pumps resistance by the pint
into straight glasses.

The War Museum has a swollen head, wings
clipped by bombs. Built for the criminally insane,
mad arms brandish a welcome.

Slant skulls on mossy tombs, memento mori
leaf fall underfoot veils a grave. Small green heads
flicker in the planes.

Etched on the Three Stags’ street-reflecting glass,
the hopeful bowler and absurd moustache of Chaplin
on the lookout for his absent Dad

long gone to Brookwood on a one-way ticket.

Higgins, Ruth pic

* * * * * * * * * *
Victoria Hicks

Decay

The morning’s intent
Was to find you
Hollow wall
Brick overlap
You appeared
In the mossed over word
Delicately frilled with green

Hicks, Victoria photo 1

* * * * * * * * * *
Derek Harper

Cat

Look at the earth reflected
in a cat’s eyes, secrets unscraped.
Calm behind curtains, the shape of his vision
safe with his owners.

Our two worlds deliberate
each others’ angles.
His tiny mouth still like blood
has stopped pumping,
till he sees what threatens
then he roars the area.

Our arms fold him up,
he likes to be folded.
His memory of achievement rests
by our bodies. Heartbeat
to heartbeat. Dinner is ready.
He sleeps under arcing stars.

Harper, Derek pic

* * * * * * * * * *
Jennifer Grigg

Conversation

You ask to speak to me
in the empty garden –
we push the door open
and walk into the painted scene.
The zig-zag path is hard to understand.
A topiary letter ‘C’ casts
a long shadow behind
an improbable tree,
its trunk smooth and bent
like a brush-mark of calligraphy.
Your words seem painted too –
the wrong colour, wet to the touch,
they hang in the garden air.
The garden door has shut
behind the trompe l’oeil fence
but the padlock is real.
We walk back and forth along the zig-zag,
the shadow of the topiary ‘C’
cuts us off at the knees.
Words drip and pool,
colouring the fallen leaves.

(No photo supplied)

* * * * * * * * * *
Greg Freeman

Hercules Road

And did those feet …?
When William Blake lived in Lambeth
gardens and fields
stretched down to the Thames.
The site of the revolutionary imaginary’s
home was overlooked for many years
by government messengers.
Now a dark, satanic construction looms,
Park Plaza, builder of similar hotels
in Amsterdam, Leeds, Beijing,
Nottingham, Utrecht,
Bangkok, Eindhoven, and Cardiff.
All of them more or less the same.

Bring me my bow …

From a gap in dirty nets
a marmalade cat peers out,
surveys psychogeographers
snapping away from behind
the railings and flowerbeds.
In the next-door garden
a lone brassica
thrives among roses and dahlias.

Freeman, Greg pic 3

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