From King Arthur’s Round Table in Eden to Winston Churchill at Dover Castle, and from Brixton Market to the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral, our national story can be found in the buildings all around us.
In 2016, I sat on a park bench in Penrith which carried a memorial for a forgotten First World War soldier, Pte William Gibson Clarke MM. In exploring his life I found connections to half-a-dozen locations around the UK, uncovered the story of a wave of migration to Canada, and was able to find out how and where Clarke died, in the last hundred days of the war. I wrote a poem about him, which led to a pilgrimage to his grave in Caix British Cemetery, France, revisiting the bench on the centenary of his death – and on the same day the Canadian Legion placing a wreath on the War Memorial in Moosomin where he is remembered.
If a poem about one very ordinary bench in a small municipal park can tell such a complex story, and have such an impact, what can poems about other places around England tell us?
Travelling from one end of England to the other over the last ten years, I have become more and more interested in how the buildings we pass every day – and often overlook – tell stories about our nation’s identity. Interpreting these stories seems even more important at a time when we’re facing a national crisis, at the root of which is the conflict between an idea of our historical place in the world and the reality of our current place in a global system.
In a new project Your England, taking place over the next year, I am going to write 100 poems about 100 places, which together will form a history of England. The individual poems will be sorted in a taxonomy of themes including:
- Industry & Invention
- Creativity & Culture
- Revolution & Protest
- Migration & Movement
- War & Remembrance
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be having a conversation on social media to find buildings that I should include in the list of 100. Find me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to join in the conversation. I’m looking for places that are distinct, match the themes above, and ideally have a connection to an interesting person, too (alive or dead, famous or unknown).
I hope to be out, exploring the first places and meeting people to talk about them, before Christmas.
Until then, you can read some poems I wrote earlier this year, to test the idea:
And the poem that started the project:
The project is backed by a Project Grant from Arts Council England, and supported by partners including the Towner Gallery, Eastbourne; Dreamland, Margate; Turner Contemporary, Margate; Theatre Absolute, Coventry and Theshold Studios in Northampton.