Wednesday, 6 July 2011

City poems

Here come three poems from 1996. All of them were written for a competition, organised jointly by the Times literary supplement and Poems on the Underground, for poems with an urban theme. They weren't placed in the competition, but they were accepted for publication within the year -- a pattern from which I drew perhaps too much encouragement.


Measuring our wants
straight as itemised phone bills
you can predict that
we go for straight streets also --
they show in red on your screen,

while violet means
streets choked by corners and kinks
and crook frightfulness,
those that are least travelled by
and therefore least travelled by.

It's called space syntax,
and, I've no doubt, yields some mileage;
more than from tracking
a friend's, a sister's random
crisscross of Damascus roads.

ELYShould have been written in dactyls or anapaests,
but here it is at Ely's rubbish tips,
sober trochees of a legend:

London swings, they used to say
(on a gibbet, someone quips);
AUSTRALIA SUCKS, a spraycan cried
(NEW ZEALAND 3, a wag replied);

Jerusalem will come down from heaven,
a bride adorned for her husband; Ely's lips
are pursed, she rises purposively, strides
over the trains, over the river,
years fall away with Bury St Edmunds,
and on the Suffolk coast, at Southwold, ELY CITY SKIPS.

Not the great cloud-gorge that a flying lesson
revealed to two men, and them only, moving;
not the moon's shadow crossing India,
a sight for gods, and millions looked on;
but still a sight -- the A1 in December,
sun-cold, a sky-green-freezing winter day,
we travelled northwards, and we saw the steam
of cooling-towers bunched -- dense golden mounds --
churning themselves intact, and never spreading --
a sight for passengers, a sight, not more,
not metaphor or symbol or instruction,
only the weight of townage, living weight
of townage that requires such clouds and towers
to stand cooling for light and power and warmth;
and, using them, something you'd hardly see.
All of the poems were published in the magazine Orbis: 'City planners' in #121, spring 2002, p. 58; 'Ely' in #106, autumn 1997, p. 59; 'Skyscape' in #106, autumn 1997, p. 14, and again, to my great joy, in #115, winter 1999, being a personal selection by the then editor Mike Shields of poems from the magazine's first 30 years.
For drawing my attention to Ely City Skips, I thank Peter Hocking.

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