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).

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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.


Penrith

This is from a larger collection of mostly new poems. 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.

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Penrith

 

In memory of Private William Gibson Clarke, Military Medal, who fell in France 10th August, 1918.

Our son was lost in 1918.
Our son was lost again,
somewhere in
carbonic paper, typists,
foolscap quarto, in 1923.

In a wooden drawer
of indexed cards in the
new Town Hall, he was an
anomaly in the town clerk’s
taxonomy of the dead.

We are a Penrith family,
Primitive Methodists,
live here in redstone
Brunswick Square.

Our son was wearing
socks, vests from Arnison’s
when he was decorated
for bravery at Vimy Ridge.

But – earlier, he left our
old world for a new one –
emigrated to Canada.
Waited tables, when he
heard the mother country
calling,
enlisted in Manitoba, 1915.

He died, in the last hundred days,
at Le Quesnel; he had travelled
the farthest of all the Allied men;
eight miles into German lines; he
was there at the start of the end.

Here, home, in Penrith
we asked for his name
to be added to the
memorial gateway in
Castle Park: no, they
said; he’s a colonial.

So, instead, we saved and paid
for this; a bench, in the park
where he played. Here he
is remembered: we hope in
a hundred years somebody
will read the cast iron words,
that will outlive us
as we outlived him,
sit here, know who he was.