Griffin Primary School’s poem about hippo-po-thames

Thoroughly enjoying this hippo-po-thames Nine Elms residency. Thanks again to Spread the Word for giving me the chance to meet up with lots of lovely people from the area and write poems about hippos! After visiting the sculpture with the group from Griffin Primary, we all headed back to the school to do some writing. Here’s the poem we came up with:

Nine Elms Lane. Tuesday morning. We are in this busy place
Heavy traffic, engines roaring loudly, bursting our ear wax.
Clanking and drilling from the construction site.
Seagulls squawking, white and grey.
People, cars, rubbish. Under the tallest glass building,
big as the Empire State, we lean against the hard rock
of the wall between the path and the river, feel it crumbling.
We are in this busy place. This happy and excited place. To see a hippo.
A massive wooden hippo with pink nostrils shaped like strawberries.
The King Kong of the water. Heavier than a helicopter.
The Fat Farter from Jupiter with eyes like giant eggs.
We watch the dirty brown river Thames moving slowly. A white cruise boat
going under Vauxhall bridge as a red double decker bus drives by above it.
In the distance, London eye. Another bridge, another bridge, another bridge.
Rustling tree leaves. Birds speaking.
Sound of water crashing against the stones
as we listen closely, boats making ripples.
Fresh air brushing my face. We are in this place
by Battersea power station, with its 4 massive chimneys.
This place. With its bright green grass, still soggy. We see
water coming out a tiny pipe on the opposite bank.
Some people sit on benches, smoke cigarettes, eat snacks.
But we are in this relaxed, lazy place to see a hippo.
Some fat-bellied chubby-legged elephant size leader of the swamp.
The Queen Hippo rules the Thames with no care.
The hip hop huge loud King Botamus looking colourful.
In this cool place. With these enormous cartoon eyes. Teeth bigger
than bugs bunny. Super-size. In this place. With it’s mega-bum, short-tail
barrel shaped ogre face. We are in this place
to see a hippo.

PS the awesome photo at the top is by Steve Stills for Totally Thames Festival.

If they can put a huge hippo on the thames surely they can…

As part of the residency Spread the Word have set up for me at Nine Elms I went to visit ‘Hippo-po-thames’ with a great group from Randall Close Day Centre last week. There was 4 of them and they each penned a verse of this awesome poem:

If they can put a lonely yellow hippo
with the biggest ass you’ve ever seen
stood out on the river,
surely they can move Crytsal Palace
to the top of the Premier League!
Noisy but inspiring. A flippin’ miracle!

If they can put this big boat scarer
with ears like horns
on the Thames,
surely they can serve an all-day-breakfast
to me and my mate
Up in the director’s box at Selhurst Park
2 fried eggs, white and bright yellow
Bacon – not too hard
One soft sausage sizzling and spitting
Baked beans, chips AND bread.
A small glass of coke on the side.

If they can put this friendly floating swamp-swimmer
in the river, surely they can
bring Noah’s Ark to St. George’s Wharf
A pair of sheep baying on the pier
Patter of feet of all animals
Bold-striped zebra standing
Looking here, looking there
Parrots, flamingos, macaw
and birds from Guyana
All chirping…

If they can put a humungous big-eyes
honey mud-lover, red-nose beaver tail
from London Zoo hippo on the Thames,
surely they could bring people together in London.
the Asian couple pushing the buggy with a crying baby
Japanese tourists taking photos
The Polish workmen paving the path
And us two Irish/Caribbean observers
80 different languages all smiling
And listening in one place.

Poetry postcards

“Dear somebody, it’s great here. The first thing I saw when I arrived was a stone chicken. It chased me. But then I built mansion deluxe.”

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So, with an early September chill upon us I feel inspired to post about two of the workshops I enjoyed running most this summer, both of which used the approach of writing poetry postcards from a dream holidays.

The idea was that writers could use a real place they’d like to visit as a start point, but that the pieces should be more like dream holidays in the sense that they move a bit beyond reality. I used prompts that I hope encouraged people to let poetic and exciting and ridiculous thoughts flow, and the results seemed to indicate they had the desired effect!

The first workshop took place in Ealing Road Library for children aged 6-10 and was run in my role as Brent Poet Laureate. Here are some of the highlights from their writing:

“Dear mum, I woke up to hear a purple chiwawa barking birdsong. Everyone was singing happy birthday. My bed at the hotel is massive…”

“Dear dad, I arrived on a magic train. But the best bit was in the football stadium when it rained chocolate. My friend Eric was there too.”

“Dear her majesty the queen, tonight I ate dinner in a bee hive. All the food was honey flavoured. Honey chips, honey curry etc… The chef was a tiger the size of a bee.”

“Dear mum, last night I slept in my tent. You know, my tent in which anything you say appears. I said “i-pad”

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The next time I ran the session I do so in the North East of the country, up at ARC, Stockton Art Centre – a lovely venue where I took the ‘Indiana Jones and the extra chair’ residency earlier this year. This time around the group were teenagers, and it was amazing to see how the same prompts led to a different but equally exciting outcome. The pieces ended up being more narrative in cases, or dealing with issues that may have been lurking under the surface of a writer’s subconscious in some way. Unfortunately I don’t have the writing to hand, but I mention this session for two reasons:

1. It was fun and the participants were great!
2. We had some great conversations about re-drafting and editing off the back of the exercise.

As well as being a nice start point for some summer writing, the idea behind using postcards is that the form makes editing essential – once people had written freely on big bits of paper, they plucked their favourite bits for the card, or tried to get across as much of the idea as possible by condensing the writing stlye itself, or in some cases just trying to write really small! I did find though that people were much more open than normal to the idea of cutting text that maybe didn’t work as well – I guess it’s much easier to cut out bits of writing you like which don’t quite work if the only other option is to lose another bit of writing which you like more and works better!

If you have fancy having a go I have included the prompts below. Remember – allow whatever lands in your brain to land on the page. The time for editing will be when you make the transition to a postcard. To begin with, if you come up with the idea that you arrive in a forest of chocolate trees on a spy plane piloted by a koala then go for it! If at night you sleep in a hammock woven from the words to beatles songs, that’s fine! If brad pitt serves you breakfast in bed and the view from there is a cloud castle, fine, even better if the cloud castle has your 4 year old self DJing from the turret. But if this is the case, what do you play as the first record to start each morning?! If the mist drifting across the deserted beach smells of your gran’s apple crumble, or the waves at low tide make the sound of her humming as she waits for it to cook, I want to know…

How do you travel there? Remember think as wild as you like – for example you could think what is your mode of transport constructed from, how does this affect your journey?

One special item you packed to take with you. Why do you need it when you are here?

One item you were happy to leave behind.
First thing you see when you arrive?

What’s your accommodation like?

Where do you sleep at night? How does the bed feel?

What sounds do you hear when you wake up in the morning?

What is the view from your bed/bedroom?

What can you eat? Where? Who makes it? Serves it? What memory did the best meal taste of?

What’s the weather like? Don’t just say sunny! Think about how to describe dream weather – what song do you associate with the weather?

What do you see in the sky – get wild, imagine stuff!

Who else is there? Can be people that came with you or you met there, or can be just you. Can be people you really know, people you’ve made up, famous people, whoever. Why is it so good that they are there?

What has been the highlight of your trip so far?

If you do the prompts yourself, or use them in a workshop it’d be great to know how it goes!

Gladstone Park

After last week’s offering from Dominic, here’s a poem from another participant at the first workshop I ran in my role as Brent Poet Laureate. It’s by a fantastic local writer called Sam Burcher – you can find out more about her, and the book she’s just published at her website here

Gladstone Park

A green haze shimmers over distant goal posts and tennis courts.
I cross the field to the crack-crack sound of ball against bats
Feeling the tiny tremors of caterpillars and worms beneath my feet,
And the rumble of a goods train through Dudding Hill Junction.
I am a witness to the last vestiges of Gladstonbury; a full nappy, shards of broken glass, a flipped off bottle top and a pink metal bangle.
Gladstone Park is a microcosm of the universe enjoying more of itself.

The banner says, “We haven’t stopped fighting”
Across the boarded-up doors of Cricklewood Library, on the park’s periphery,
Where makeshift bookcases with polythene flaps and storage boxes
Contain the books that, by rights, should still be inside the library;
After all, the council is paying rates to keep the building empty.
I take my pick to read on higher ground,
To William Gladstone’s house, to elevate myself,
But the walls of this grand old house have been brought down.
Because it’s cheaper for the Government to run to ruin
The local spaces that serve a community function.

So, I study the floor plan of the foundations; all the rooms have been
Taken over by grass and feathers, bricks and gravel, and floor lights
(And I bet it looks good at night all lit up like a mini Acropolis.)
But in my mind, I rebuild my favourite room, the cafeteria
With its ribbon curtain to keep out the flies, the lofty counter and the ice cream freezer behind,
Would you like cornets or wafers? Wafers, every time,
We’re a family of six, so we need a big block of Cornish with wafers. I can still taste them.
But, in the present, only one wall has survived the devastation and set within it, a glassless window
Gazes out over the abandoned bowling-green
– not much is left for either the older or younger generation.
If Gladstone stood at his window now he would see the steel cradle of Wembley Stadium.

Why did I return to Gladstone Park?
Because I wanted to show the London Plane trees how much I’ve grown.
They remember when that little slope on the way to the playground
Would tire me out; my limbs are longer, it looks much smaller now.
Where is the witch’s hat, the see-saw and the roundabout?
Health and Safety has put paid to risky pleasure grounds.
But the squeaking swings remain and the new adventure walkways
Are loops of creaking iron chains, carefully traversed by delighted children
Who don’t care that rust is falling off the railings and just the gates are painted red.

The Plane trees have grown too.
In summer, their topmost twigs overarch the path to the playground and become
A living cathedral; flying buttresses formed of leaves and branches above my head.
Only synapsing clouds and the sun, glinting off the slides, are higher than this edifice.

Or did I return to Gladstone Park to say hello to Ken Livingstone, a local resident, don’t you know?
“Sorry you lost the election,” I said. Sorry I didn’t vote for you, I meant.
I didn’t vote for Boris either; my first choice was a Liberal Democrat,
They’ve been so good in Brent.
But second choice Ken is resolute, “More time to spend with the kids,” he said,
“My daughter’s going to cookery school.”
And just like Gladstone’s house was razed to the ground against Ken’s wishes,
The careers of politicians often end up in failure.

In the environmentally contrived ‘long grass area’ I stumble onto a butterfly path,
Their rising wings flap darkly against the tall, swaying, sun scorched rye,
Which hide small dogs from calling owners
And where, a young girl with hair bleached white like Nanny’s,
Can sunbathe in a black bikini, a zip divides her assets.

I spy all of this glorious Gladstone Park life,
Then rest awhile against the trunk of a well-chosen oak tree.
I want to strap myself to it, to meditate and gain strength.
But, always the restless one,
I float on the breeze to Dollis Hill and back again
To watch the sun setting over Wembley:
A sea of fire is spilling across a petrol-blue sky.
Tomorrow it will rise over the minaret in Willesden Green.

On my way again, I’m careful not to tread on dusky bees in clover.
And know myself now as a solitary bee without my family.
And like a bee, I’m attracted to the high-walled flower garden,
Where the scent of yellow roses are, to me, sweeter than white or crimson,
I hone in on marigolds, two-faced pansies, bearded iris and silvery-blue thistles
Whose cupped spiny flower heads are the colour of the Aegean.
I alone can follow my spirit,
And I have found my way back home.

Sam Burcher

FREE WRITING WORKSHOPS – Brent based goodness…

As well as writing my own poems, it feels important that this project is about supporting other voices from within the borough to get heard too. The first of five free workshops I’m running around Brent took place at the new Wembley Civic Centre on a sunny Saturday afternoon a few weeks back – 10 Brent residents got involved, and I was genuinely impressed by the quality of the writing they came up with. There was a real range of content too; we had poems about Gladstone Park, a favourite local pub in Cricklewood, and the clock tower in Harlesden to name just a few!

The next workshop is for children and families, and is on Thursday 15th August at Ealing Road Library. Find out more here!

Anyway, here is a poem from one of the participants this time round, the very talented Dominic Stevenson. You can find out more about him on his blog here, and I’ll be putting a poem up from the awesome Sam Burcher next week…

Brent’s bells toll for freedom
Soft palm clutches
Crinkled
Sweat soaked, ink stained, appointment card.
Ten am,
Born again.
Mother tongue left at the door.

Stairs to the future
Littered with ghosts
Of histories forced to be traded
For legality,
And membership to the 60 million club.

So far the trek from one place
To this new land,
Fraught with problems of its own,
Has seen earth
And sea
And strangers
Whip past windows
And doors
And destinies missed.

Compassion for the new
In our society
Can be a rare commodity.
But here it runs over
The bricks,
Racing skywards.
Penetrating clouds
And making rain fall.

Oh sweet London drizzle,
How I have longed.

Now with her majesties blessing
Free passage awaits.
From home to abroad
And home again.
To my new land,
Mostly tyranny free.

Dominic Stevenson

King Bones (the only ninja skeleton living in Bow)

In spring last year I was lucky enough to be involved in an awesome project at Chisenhale Primary school in Bow, East London. I was working with two small-ish groups of boys aged 8 and 9, and a big chunk of what I did was supporting them to build the skills they need to confidently write and perform a group piece about their local area. For the first time on a project like this I also introduced the idea of each group ‘commissioning’ an original poem or rap written by me. They were my bosses, so it was up to them to tell me what they wanted their piece to be about, and to give me feedback at various points in the process. Some of the ideas they came up with were just awesome, and for them to see their off the cuff suggestions transformed into a piece of writing they were genuinely impressed by turned out to be an important part in their journey to writing more confidently themselves.

I’m only blogging about this now months later because life got busy, but also because the other day I found the piece about ‘King Bones’ (the only ninja skeleton living in Bow) and thought it might be fun to record myself speaking it and stick up here to document the project. So, that’s what I’ve done. It’s below, with the text included too. The kids liked it, but were disappointed I did not get to the bit where Bones has a battle on a spaghetti mountain because somebody keyed his car. Who knows, maybe a sequel is coming…

King Bones
If you see a gold mini cooper with tinted windows
It’s probably King Bones, it’s King Bones!
The only ninja skeleton living in Bow. King Bones! King Bones!

Tyres screech. The fire breathing engine smokes out the entire street.
A little grey cat hides behind a tree. The slightest breeze.
Then the car doors open. In slow motion. King Bones has arrived!
King Bones has arrived! He slips out like a deadly whisper.
Moves quick. What would you expect from a ninja?!
Yep, King Bones has arrived!
The mid day sky clouds over, Thunderclaps,
Louder than a hundred hungry hands drumming empty pots and pans,
Then silence. Suddenly night,
Except for the stars, and the gold of the car, nothing is bright.
king bones has arrived. king bones has arrived.

If you hear the roar of the old Trafford crowd as a ring tone
It’s probably King Bones, it’s King Bones!
The only ninja skeleton living in Bow. King Bones! King Bones!

In a sparkling white karate suit and cool black shades
The top of his skull’s shiny, like the surface of a lake
He walks over to the cat, and that’s when we notice that
King bones white Karate suit has got a dark black skull and cross-bones on the back.
He bends down, voice like a rattle
Rattles “lets be friends now!”
The little grey cat looks up, confused
Bones strokes it’s head and it mews
Now this you wont believe but I tell you it’s true
From it’s skull to it’s claws, from that one touch,
the cat’s now a skeleton too
tail wiggling, bony tail wiggling,
follows Bones back to the car, gets in with him.
As soon as the door clicks shut, the sky switches up,
Just like that, the days back, bright sun.
Must be me Mr. Bones, if I were you I’d run!

Simon Mole (and my bosses), 2012