On Friday night when we arrived the area around Earls Court Station was of full of enthusiastic tourists, busy cafes, pubs despite the papers being full of stories about the dreadful fire that had killed so many. On Saturday a child was selling little pots of strawberries in aid of the victims!
I was here to spend two days as poet in residence in Earls Court Square, some way from the fire but in the light of so many other recent atrocities it all felt a bit incongruous. Maybe I think too much, but as I was a child born in the Blitz in 1940 and death was all around us I learned then to be wary of the unexpected. But I know too that everyone tries to get on with their own lives and carry on regardless.
We check in to a modest hotel and head for the Square where we meet up with Katrina. She is chairman of the garden committee and is busy sorting out the gazebo for the musicians, rushing to and fro preparing for the visitors on Saturday and Sunday, many of whom will be enjoying her tea and cakes.
Anna, the head gardener, is sweeping up leaves and checking all is just so. Everyone is intent on making the weekend a success.
The garden is a private space and for the rest of the year provides an oasis of calm for all the residents and a beautiful place for their children to play.
I had written some new poems inspired by previous visits, I had talked to Eyre, one of the gardeners and a few local residents. Jennifer Ware, now in her 80s, had led the residents’ successful campaign to save the garden when it was threatened with re-development. She is a warm and wonderful person and with so many tales to tell!
The residency is organised by the Poetry School and called Mixed Borders, Poets are spread across those Open London Squares that request one as part of their activities for the weekend. The poets come up with all sorts of inventive ways to engage with the public as well as writing some new poems.
Some of the personal highlights:
We had chosen garden poems written by famous poets which we photocopied, laminated and displayed around the Square. Some visitors seemed intent on reading every one!
I really enjoyed meeting new people, some had checked that there was a poet in the Square and came to seek me out. One woman, a nurse had lived in the Square in the 70s. Another was on a pilgrimage from the States to see where her mother had lived in the 30s. A third had written a long poem about the uprising in Warsaw during WW2. All were very willing to exchange emails for further contact.
Wandering around making notes for new poems I ran into Victor. I had heard of him, but not met him before. A local resident who had been an art dealer but had also looked after the garden for over 20 years! He told me he is a traditionalist as far as poetry is concerned and loves the work of Dylan Thomas.
We had printed leaflets of my new poems to give away which were well received and I gave three impromptu readings under the green parasol provided.
I took my white rabbit marionette from Alice in Wonderland (my muse). He sat in his own deckchair and at one point two young children told him stories!
When we arrived on Saturday a German TV film company came by and insisted I wrote something on camera and read a poem. Goodness knows if or when it will get to be shown.
The garden committee welcomed everyone to the Square. There were two different groups of musicians performing under a gazebo, people sunbathed, children played, and hundreds of members of the public admired the flowers, shrubs and trees, drank tea and ate cake.
We had hoped to pop out to see some of the Open Spaces ourselves but this was not practical. We did, however, make a quick visit to the Mosaic Rooms nearby to see fellow poet Carol Rowntree Jones. Carol had collaged a mosaic bowl and put fragments of Arab womens’ poems inside, inviting the public to take one.
I am a Londoner born and bred and so lucky to be part of this scheme. I was in Postman’s Park last year but Waterloo Park and Parliament Hill Fields were my happy hunting grounds as a child.
I still miss living in London but was grateful to get on the train back to Brighton to the sea and the cool air. Just in time on Sunday too to get the last of the elderflowers from my neighbour Simon’s garden to make some cordial. Simon had also helped to choose the garden poems that were displayed in the Square.
Poet in confusion reflected in the wonderful waterfall sculpture.
Stop Press – just been sent link to the film