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 round the corner, 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.
I had already written a few poems as a result of quick visits in previous weeks. I had walked round the Square, talked to Eyre, one of the gardeners and a few local residents. Particularly interesting was Jennifer Ware, now in her 80s, who had led the residents’ successful campaign to save the garden when it was threatened with re-development. She is such a warm and wonderful person and with so many tales to tell!
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 wrote a series of fragments on both days but not complete poems. But I had collated some of the poems I had written earlier into a double sided leaflet with photographs.
Oh dear still two minor mistakes but hopefully no one noticed!
My partner did the photo copying and we optimistically printed and folded 50 copies for each day. Happily, they were greeted with enthusiasm.
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.
Other personal highlights:
1. Inspired to write some new poems!
This is the whole idea behind the residences. Poets are spread across some of the Open London Squares for the whole weekend. The scheme is called Mixed Borders and is supported by The Poetry School.
2 Loved the interest in the garden poems written by famous poets which we copied, laminated and put on display around the park. Some visitors seemed intent on reading every one.
3. 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 woman was on a pilgrimage from the States to see where her mother had lived in the 30s. A third woman had written a long poem about the uprising in Warsaw during WW2. All very willing to exchange emails for further contact.
4. I can be confident about many things but less so when it comes to my poetry. Luckily a few fellow poets had given the thumbs up to the new ones about the Square so I gave three impromptu readings under the green parasol provided.
5. I always take my white rabbit (my muse) a marionette from Alice in Wonderland with his own deckchair to such events. This time he even danced briefly for a group of Japanese tourists and sat listening while two young children told him stories!
6. We had barely arrived on Saturday when 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.
7. Sometimes I just walk around and talk to people. How lucky then that one such person was Victor a local resident, he is a little frail these days but I was told that he had been an art dealer and had also looked after the garden for over 20 years!
We talked about poetry and he told me he is a traditionalist and also loved Dylan Thomas, who is one of my favourites..
I enjoyed it all. Two different groups of musicians played under a gazebo, people sunbathed, children played and hundreds of members of the public admired the flowers, the shrubs, the trees in this lovely Square.
I am a Londoner born and bred and was lucky to get Postman’s Park last year (posts on this blog). Waterloo Park and Parliament Hill Fields were my happy hunting grounds as a child. I love all of London’s Open Spaces!
I still miss living in London but was grateful to get on the train back to Brighton to the sea and the cool air. I was also just in time on Sunday to get the last of the elderflowers from my neighbour Simon’s garden to make some elderflower cordial. Simon had also helped choose the garden poems that were displayed in the Square.
Poet in confusion reflected in the wonderful waterfall sculpture.
If you want a poet in residence you could try me. Ann
Stop Press – just been sent link to the film