what next?!

I wrote this poem inspired by conversations I had with members of the public passing by the Hippopothames sculpture that I was poet-in-residence for during September. To be clear, there were lots of people who had very positive responses to the giant floating hippo – from a quick glance and a grin as they cycled past, all the way up to parents and kids who stopped to write hippo haikus with us, and couples who had come from abroad to take photos of themselves down on the fore-shore with this barrel-backed behemoth proud in the background.

Probably my favourite was the Polish construction worker who told me he had first seen the hippo on the news on TV back in Poland, in his living room with his kids. He had arrived in the UK a week or so later to discover that he was working at the top of a huge new tower-block with a perfect birds-eye view of the sculpture, and had popped down on his lunch to take a photo to send back home!

I was though more interested in those people who for whatever reason struggled with the very fact the thing it existed. Out of a few initially difficult but ultimately very entertaining chats came this poem!

No More Worries mini-film: the pub scene

I blogged a few months back about the spoken word road-trip movie for theatres I’m making with director Peader Kirk. The show is called ‘No More Worries’ and has been co-commissioned by Apples and Snakes and the Albany.

As part of the final project we think we might like to shoot a series of extracts from the full piece in various locations as we tour the theatre performance – mini-films which viewed in sequence would tell the whole story of the show. The aim with this trial one (masterfully filmed and edited by Karim Kamar as part of our Arts Council funded R&D phase) was to get close to the vibe of what it is like seeing me perform the piece live, but mix that up with a few more cinematic flourishes here and there. Hope you enjoy it!

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.

a poem about a massive hippo

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.

My last commission as Brent Poet Laureate…

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.

New video for my poem inspired by Neasden Temple!

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

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