London Lines poets - with a little help from us - map out the city

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Poems projected at night on to a pedestrian bridge across the Thames, displayed on the side of a cafe, hidden within the Poetry Library at the Festival Hall, or wrapped around food on a market stall were just some of the words about London boroughs that have been appearing around the Southbank Centre as part of London Lines, a project that has enlisted 33 poets to write 33 poems - and thus map out the capital city.

Although some of the poems had already been written, at the weekend members of the public were invited to contribute their own London borough memories to the final 22 poems being composed within the Festival Hall. Today the artist duo Cabinet of Curiosity installed those poems as a walkthrough 3-D map of the city on the Clore Ballroom. Postcards of recollections, prompts and clues that we had filled in were stacked up, with the poem attached on top of them like the flag on a sandcastle.

It was the culmination of a project organised by the Southbank Centre and Jaybird Live Literature, as part of the Southbank’s four-month Festival of Neighbourhood, which runs until 8 September. 

The organisers said that the 33 poets for each London borough were chosen because they either live or work there, or have some other significant connection to the borough which they are representing, such as having been born there or having been married there.

In fact, accomplished young poet Sarah Hesketh (Kingston-upon-Thames), who is originally from Burnley and currently lives in Archway, north London, cheerfully confessed that she had recently paid her first visit to the outer London, royal borough beside the river to mug up for the London Lines project. Sitting opposite her, Inua Ellams (Richmond) equally regarded himself as something of a blank canvas for the well-heeled London suburb he was writing about. 

But whether or not the organisers intended it to turn out like this, you could very well argue that having an expert poet take a fresh, detached look at a borough, aided by former and current residents’ input, works just as well as having a mediocre one write with more inside knowledge. It’s all a question of perspective. As I pointed out to Sarah, I grew up in Kingston, but only truly appreciated its charms years later when I moved away and returned for visits.  

I was cheered to see when I returned on Sunday that her completed Kingston poem included a reference to our long-gone, open-air swimming pool, the Surbiton lagoon, which was just round the corner from where we lived, and another to the Millais painting of Ophelia that is remarkably linked to the river where we once fished for tadpoles.  

On Saturday tweeted contributions to the poems were appearing in rapid-fire style on a screen at the Clore Ballroom to add to the creative mix.

One of the poets that took part, Jacqueline Saphra, whose poem, Crying and Kissing, represented the borough of Haringey, said on her blog: "It was ultimately a leap of faith – actually a pioneering act - on the part of the organisers to dare to create this coming together of poetry and community, but it was evident from the Londoners’ enthusiasm, and the poets’ excitement and energy that it paid off. We all leapt and landed."


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Greg Freeman

Mon 22nd Jul 2013 14:44

You're right, Ann, there ought to be a poem there, down in the stream somewhere. Maybe we should all try thinking of poems about where we grew up, within or without London.

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Ann Foxglove

Mon 22nd Jul 2013 13:53

Sounds a lovely idea! Also, Ophelia and the tadpoles - a poem in there surely?

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