Brixton

This is a second poem from a larger collection of mostly new poems. I won’t publish them all online: I want them to appear in print. But – I want to give people a flavour. You can read another, from Penrith, here.

It is an attempt to write a picture of England in 2017, through a series of poems about place. It is based on my travel and research. I anticipate that, when complete, there will at least a hundred poems.

This is about Oswald Denniston, my Windrush hero. He was very much in my mind while making my work for Estuary Festival last year (pictured below).

empire-flags-sm

Brixton


For Oswald “Columbus” Manoah Denniston, signwriter and market trader, born 24th May 1913; died 3rd February 2000.

Move us on ‘cos
we ain’t got a licence:
we carry rolled cloth
on our backs, use
our yard-wand as
a walking stick:
if we sell you short
it’s because we
walk so far we’ve
worn it down an inch
or maybe two.

We walk the markets, streets, arcades.

We know the sandwich man –
Consult Madame Sandra,
Palmist, Clairvoyant –

The Man With The X-Ray Eyes –
he’ll guess your age, and maybe
throw in a horoscope –

The German Accordion Player –
who worked his way up from
tin whistle, mouth organ. We

know Mr Columbus, explorer,
navigator, who travelled from
Montego Bay to sell fabric in
Brixton Market: fancy cloth,
rich thread, always a story;
cloth woven with the promise
of adventure.

When Columbus arrived he
was a signwriter: knew the
right weight of paint on a brush –
sable brush, with chisel edge –
balanced mahlstick, measure,
soft pencil for marking-up;

pounce, pot, kettle,
spirit, chamois.

Arrived, Tilbury, gave cheers,
and raised his Anthony Eden hat.

And – in thanks for his thanks,
gained employment –
this new, old world –
his Mother country,
wanted, welcomed him.

Mr Columbus,
the first black to
join the cycling club.

Founder of the
Association
Of Jamaicans.

Calypso, skiffle, rock and roll –
Mr Columbus imported a juke box,
and an Italian coffee machine –
created warmth in a
cold harbour.

Then Columbus came here, the
market, arched-roof Granville Arcade –
set up amongst the Jews, emigres –
with his rich, coloured African cloth.

This was the place – poets, politicians,
artists, makers, movers, shakers;
Lord Kitchener, Darcus Howe, Sir
Herman Ouseley, Linton Kwesi Johnson;
the conversations, talk, discussion
lasted days, weeks – maybe never ended –
Jamaicans are happy-go-lucky people.
When you have more than six you have a party.
This formica-topped market table,
became our field of the cloth of gold.

Explorer, navigator:
Mr Columbus
came looking for an old world
but made a new one instead.


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