During a visit to the hippo-po-thames sculpture with a great group of local kids from Griffin Primary School, I recorded this audio of them speaking on behalf of everyone’s favourite giant wooden Nine Elms resident…
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
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.
It’s not every day you get asked to write a poem about a 21 metre Hippo that will be built in secret and then float down the Thames. ‘Hippo-po-thames’ is the latest in a long line of awesome and absolutely massive sculptures by Dutch art don Florentijn Hofman and will be ‘living’ at Nine Elms on the Southbank until the end of September. I performed my piece at the launch – my first duty as official poet-in-residence for the sculpture and surrounding area…
I had a lot of fun writing the piece, and was really inspired by going to chat to Florentijn when ‘horatio’ was still under construction. To find the place I had to head way out east to a tucked away spot in the depths of the docks, between the river and the runway of City Airport. I had landed in a strange place where teams of highly skilled carpenters construct your most surreal dreams from tall piles of timber.
What inspired me most about chatting to Florentijn was the idea that the art is also the activity the object creates – it acts as a catalyst or spark for human engagement, for re-imagining the area. With this in mind, an important part of his final piece is the newly permitted access to the fore-shore where the hippo is moored. The playful almost cartoony appearance of the thing attracts people to engage with the area in a different way.
In my role as poet-in-residence over the next month I’ll be working with Spread the Word to run writing workshops for four different local community groups, using the hippo as a start point for expressing our ideas and opinions about the Nine Elms area.
Thanks to those who took the time to check out the video for my Neasden Temple inspired poem, anyone who missed it can take a look here…
A slightly different vibe now though for my 3rd & final commission as Brent Poet Laureate – another thing that has been interesting me around Brent, and London in general, is the baffling continued presence of the internet café.
Logically there should only be one or two of these left anywhere, and by rights these remaining anachronisms should operate more as museums, you know: “come and watch yesterdays future gather dust like a prototype hoverboard.”
But no, there are actually more than ever. I put this down to the fact that instead of lamenting the demise of their kind with a voice like a dial up modem wailing, net cafes have diversified. Wildly.
What used to be net café express, is now net café EXCHANGE express and you can buy or sell or do virtually anything: untraceable sim cards, next level laptops, money transfers overseas, knock off smart phone covers in dayglo orange or tartan, blank CDs, probably blank cassettes if you ask right. No word of a lie, in Kilburn there is a fishmonger which is also a netcafe.
And everything here happens quickly, in the grunted business language of the high road entrapenour. So, I wrote this next piece in the voice of all north west London net café owners, in fact all web kings capital wide. You can listen to an audio recording of the poem here:
And here is the text version:
Net cafe exchange express
Net Cafe Exchange Express. We buy, we sell, we repair. Up to you Boss.
Everything you have not saved will be lost. Email. Fax international. Calls
low cost. All continents here. See her on number two, with the head scarf
and the many plastic bags. Everyday googling stress and hyper-tension. Up
she gets now look, all bustle quick quick with ages left, her 30 minutes
not yet done. My friend. Everything has a price. Printing Black & White. 10p.
Printing Colour. £1. You know the cafe down the road? The new one, yes.
Free wireless, hot drinks, fancy food. Our Fanta and Kit Kat stay cheap,
up to you boss. This tall man brings his book. To my internet cafe. His book.
But he pays, like all customers. Just watch. He will sit down quick then
turn the screen off. Read many pages in one hour. Go.
He tells me he read the internet, all of it. But now he’s bored of it. Honestly,
rubbish. He say that. With no smiling either. And then old red face on
number eight, always pointing pointing I print something yes? Did that come?
I give in not once. Coz being nice only leads to more questions. Soon
I’ll be typing all emails to their cousin in Greece, scanning their house bills,
Skyping their wife. And probably I do it quicker than they can. Jokes,
but with more speed actually I bring in less money. So I give in to him not once.
Yes 10p per print black & white. Yes 50p minimum internet charge as well. Yes,
for logging on and pressing print only. Yes, if you put 60p in the jar each time
you print something here the last six months, you buy two printers. Yes.
But then here you are again, so probably you did not. End of the day.
It’s up to you boss. Everything you have not saved will be lost. And the time
is running out I know, yes. You’re not going to get done what you need to get done.
None of us are.
Yipee! Today is the day I can share the video for my second commissioned poem as Brent Poet Laureate! Inspired by BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, which is commonly known as Neasden Temple, the poem explores the contrast between this quiet reflective space and the hustle and bustle of busy city life. Hope you like it!
The video was directed and shot by Karim Kamar, and you can read the text version of the poem here:
Inside the mandir at Neasden temple
each gleaming white pillar is a spotlight of silence.
I read that inner peace brings you in to contact
with your true divine nature. See the intricate infinity
of patterns in the domed roof above. Silence
1.water, toilet roll, milk, bread. 2. Put a wash on.
3. Make a plan for the week – factor in time to be spontaneous.
4. Book advance train tickets for Thursday 12th.
I read that Ganesh is the remover of obstacles.
Smile at his one tusked elephants’ head and round belly.
Feel my bare feet warm on the marble floor. Silence
5. Adam’s email about the invoices. 6. Make space
once everything is done to chill out. Stop.
It is rare to see Ganesh dance. And yet up close
this shiny stone column is carved with such music
that he does. In eight different ways
First on tip toes, with knees bent, trunk swung to one side
As two hands of four beat drums, two carve sky palms wide
trunk grips a trumpet, as left heel kicks high
bells ring, shakers shake, horns blow
Ganesh’s father Shiva was the cosmic dancer.
The rhythm of the shapes that he threw
destroyed a weary universe, clearing the way
for the process of creation, and this silence
is its own dance, the ripples
spreading out into the space between
“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.”
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”
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!
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…
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.
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
Sweat soaked, ink stained, appointment card.
Mother tongue left at the door.
Stairs to the future
Littered with ghosts
Of histories forced to be traded
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
Whip past windows
And destinies missed.
Compassion for the new
In our society
Can be a rare commodity.
But here it runs over
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.
Our stall and general presence in the market works in three main ways:
1. We wonder around offering people a lucky dip bag of themed poems and reading them the one they pick…
2.People come to the stall and ask for a poem about a particular theme, moment, whatever – we ask them a few questions and then they head off for 10/15 minutes while we write the thing…
3. We write poems similarly ‘instant’ poems inspired by chatting to market traders, bigging up what they do, connecting with them or their story in some way…
On Saturday I got talking to Evelin who runs a mobile coffee shop out the back of a little red van, and wrote something for her. Check the shaky video here (which gets a little too close to my face for my liking!), or read the piece below that…
Karu coffee, from Estonia with love
Arabica beans freshly ground, we make moves
Evelin, our house proud host, hoists a parasol
high above her little village of six chairs
and three tables. Six years ago to England
she came, having never made a coffee, not one
plans change! Her face holds the warm humble blush
of a craftsperson proud of their trade
back home, Karu means brown bear
which is kind of like ‘Pumpkin’
a name you call your lover maybe…
steam froths milk, wipe the nozzle clean
tap the base of the milk jug and pour
we make moves, summer tunes float
from the radio. And every day a new spot,
the little red van opens its doors
feel the buzz, from Estonia with love