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 fifty 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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