The first fifty places for Your England

Your England is an ambitious project – 100 poems, about 100 places, which form a history of England.

My one rule is that I have to have visited everywhere I write about, even if the original building or location has been lost, changed, or reconfigured, so I have a real sense of place. With only a year and a set budget, that will mean some compromises, that some places are just too hard to reach in the time I have.

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All of the poems are sorted into a rough taxonomy:

  • Creativity & Culture
  • Exploration
  • Faith & Religion
  • Industry & Invention
  • Migration
  • Protest & Revolution
  • War & Remembrance

And I’m aiming for a wide geographical split, to cover a variety of faiths and cultures, and (in the poems that are about people) to achieve a 50/50 male-female split, too. It’s a complicated sort.

Just to add some extra complexity, I’ve been asking people to suggest places they think I should go, and I’ll be running workshops with some partners to let more people suggest more places.

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So – based on what I’ve written so far, the suggestions people have made, and where I plan to go next, here are the first fifty(ish) places on the Your England list:

Bedfordshire:
Panacea Society, Bedford

Coventry:
Coventry Cathedral – Basil Spence
Shopfront Theatre, Coventry

Essex:
Tilbury Landing Stage

Isle of Wight:
Ryde Pier

Kent:
The Grange, Ramsgate
Martyrdom, Canterbury Cathedral
Dover Castle – Sir Bertram Home Ramsay
Chatham Docks No 3 Covered Slip
Copperas works, Whitstable

Leeds:
Templeworks

London:
Granville Arcade, Brixton – Oswald Columbus Denniston
St Pancras Station
121 Centre, Brixton and the Rebel Dykes
The Poppy Factory, Richmond
Crossbones Burial Ground
Royal Albert Hall
King Henry’s corridor, Cabinet Office
Charterhouse Square, London
Eel Pie Island
Luna House, Croydon
Olympic Park, Stratford
Gardeners, Spitalfields

Lancashire:
Rochdale Pioneers Shop
Preston Bus Station

Lincolnshire:
St Botolph’s Church, Boston – ‘Boston Stump’

Liverpool:
Mathew Street, Liverpool

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Margate:
Sanger’s journey
The Margate Road
Site of Margate Caves
Rowden Hall Kindertransport Hostel, Margate
Dreamland
Turner Contemporary

Northampton:
78 Derngate, Northampton
Carpetbaggers Aviation Museum

Penrith:
Clarke’s Bench, Penrith
King Arthur’s Round Table, Penrith

Portsmouth & Southsea:
Fort Cumberland, Southsea

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Staffordshire:
Middleport Pottery, Stoke-on-Trent
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle

Somerset:
Glastonbury, Frost Fayre

Somme:
The Lochnagar Crater

Surrey:
Watts Chapel

Sussex:
Shoreham Airport
Gypsy Lee, Bognor
Church of St John sub Castro, Lewes
Cotchford Farm
Towner Gallery

Worthing:
Cissbury Ring
Desert Quartet, Worthing – Elisabeth Frink
Dome Cinema, Worthing

Wiltshire:
Sanger’s journey

Wildcard – all the Canals

Partners:
Turner Contemporary
Shopfront Theatre, Coventry
Dreamland
Towner Gallery

This will, of course, change – and I’m going to have to write more than 100 poems to get 100 that I’m happy with, too. These are the poems already completed:

Clarke’s Bench, Penrith
King Arthur’s Round Table, Penrith
Sanger’s journey
The Margate Road
Site of Margate Caves
Tilbury Landing Stage
Granville Arcade, Brixton – Oswald Columbus Denniston
Coventry Cathedral – Basil Spence
Templeworks
Middleport Pottery, Stoke-on-Trent

 

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Your England

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.

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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. 

Your England performance in Roundabout

Press Release

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.

Travelling from one end of the country to the other, before and after the 2016 referendum, artist and writer Dan Thompson has become interested in how the stories told about England’s historic buildings reflect our sense of identity. In a new project, taking place over the next year, he plans to write 100 poems about 100 places, which together will form a history of England.

In this special.performance in pop up theatre Roundabout, Thompson will read some of the first poems written. In this free show he tells the story of the first black trader in Brixton Market, Basil Spence rebuilding Coventry Cathedral after the Blitz, the architect who created an Egyptian temple in Leeds, and the man who discovered Margate’s Shell Grotto.

“The show will appeal to people interested in local history, printing presses, historic buildings, lost rivers, poetry, or the split in society brought about by Brexit,” he says.

Thompson has worked as an artist across the UK, often working with local people to explore the place they live. He made a set of signal flags for Estuary Festival, which subsequently toured as a backdrop with The Libertines, and in 2017 programmed the Estuary Festival in Swansea. He has won Coast’s Unsung Hero Award, been included on The Independent’s Happy List, and listed by Time Out as one of the hundred most influential people in the UK’s creative industries.

He has previously performed a one man show in Roundabout in Stoke and Margate. This one-off performance, titled Your England, takes place at 2.30pm on Friday 21st September. It lasts around 45 minutes and is free. Your England is supported by Marine Studios and is part of the Margate Festival. For more information visit http://www.danthompson.co.uk.

Download Your England – Press Release (pdf)

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Middleport Pottery, Burslem

This is the fourth poem from a larger collection of mostly new poems. This collection is an attempt to write a picture of England in 2017, through a series of poems about buildings, places and the stories they tell. It is based on my travel and research. I’m aiming for 100 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 others here.

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Middleport, Burslem

Here in the model pottery,
within this brickbuilt O,
the process of making is
refined, closed, looped.

The circle is square:
each piece of ware is
handled
by twenty five people,
and the distance from
hand-to-hand is short,
here men and women are
efficient as machines.

Alleyways are wide as cart and horse.
Each shop is closed, controlled;
even the air works well.
Here architecture is the
servant of art and science.

The Seven Oven Alchemical Works;
thick earth made to slip,
black smoke.
Boulton’s steam engine.
Rain saved in header tanks.
Held in the leyline curve of
the Trent and Mersey Canal.
This place is earth, fire,
air, water, metal –
elemental.
Here clay is made into gold.

The Famous Dr Nelson’s Improved Inhaler,
pudding bowls for the war effort,
Ernest Bailey’s kangaroo jugs for Australia,
Copeland’s designs ‘as if from outer space’,

The globe is all over Burleigh Ware
and Burleigh Ware is all over the globe.

Coventry

This is a third 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 others 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’m aiming for 100 poems.

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Coventry

“Basil Spence is a prophet
Who seeks to proclaim the Word of God
In modern ways”

Spence had liberated Chartres, cold and dead;
he knew churches needed life –
so started with a model
that cost as much as a house,
for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition;

then he built his new cathedral
from the inside out.
Fed by Bishop Gorton’s understanding
of people and liturgy,
of choir and canons and clergy and communion,

Spence drew pools of lightness,
wove tapestry in stone,
coloured glass, etched glass, copper frames,

thought about the fastness of dye,
the geodetic construction of a bomber,
Gothic ribs, the facets of a fly’s eye,
radio pylons as he reached higher, further.

“It is going to be built, it is going to be built”
in Spain, over and over and over,
until English ideas and Danish engineering
let the disciplined grid of Spence’s vaulted ceiling soar.

John Laings, builders,
gave all their profits back.

The last flame from the burnt cathedral
lit candles on the newest altar;
the first and last,
alive for evermore amen.

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).

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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.

He Do The Police In Different Voices – A Trumppoem

A to be for to an election?
A NEW LOW!
All across the country
A good lawyer 
             And the many roles they serve that are 
A great case 
             A race
An incredible spirit of
 Added missiles
American people will come way down!
A complete and total disaster - is imploding fast!
Battlefield
Bad (or sick) guy!
Buy American
Competition in the Drug Industry 
                                Competition
Congratulations! 
Could make out of the fact that was in October 
Court earlier
             Crimea
Despite what you hear in the press
Don't let the FAKE NEWS
Don't worry
Down by
Drug
     Election election
                      Election!


Eight years
FAKE NEWS


For Russia got 
              For 
 For the 
        Getting major things done!
Getting rid of state lines
Good lawyer
 Got stronger and stronger!
Great discussion!
Great news, great rallies
Gone to tapp my phones


Healthcare is coming along great
Healthcare rollout 
                  How low
Hire American
I am working on a new system
I'd bet
       I have tremendous respect for women 
Is it legal


It will end in a beautiful picture!
Just prior to
JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!
JOBS!
Make America Great Again!


New Healthcare Bill
                   Now out for review and negotiation and
Optimism
Our wonderful new Healthcare Bill
Obamacare
Obama
Picked-off Crimea
President Obama 
President Obama 
President Obama
President prior pricing for the principles "ran over",
Released 

         Returned to the returned to the
 Sitting President
Stronger and stronger 
Sweeping the country
 

Tapp my phones Tapp Tapping my phones


Thank you
Thank you
There is right now—
 There is - 
There is big infighting in the Trump Admin
This is Nixon/Watergate.
Tremendous support.


Turned down by
Very sacred vicious prisoners
                            vital to the fabric of our society and our economy


We are talking to many groups
We are getting along great
We're bringing back the JOBS!
We are only just beginning 
                          "wire tapping"


Wonderful wonderful
Weak!

This is a cut-up poem, made from the text of about twenty of President Trump’s most recent Tweets. I cut out key phrases, and arranged them roughly alphabetically. This poem should be read out loud. It’s my first Trumppoem – there will be more.

 

Not part of my revolution

You’re not part of my revolution.
You don’t march under my flag –
you don’t get that this is the real thing
not found in a shopping bag

You’ll just never be a rebel –
always blunt, not cutting edge.
You’ll always do coffee in Costa
while we meet outside on the ledge.

And while we march forward together,
changing the world line by line,
you’ll never know what it means
to be uncomfortable most of the time.

You’ll never get that punk rock
is more than humming a tune –
never realise that tomorrow
is always a day too soon –
never know that the truth is out there
not inside a holy book –
never realise that what you’ve got
is less than what you took.

You’re not part of my revolution –
you’re not a revolutionary brother.
You’re not a young soul rebel,
not a hero, or fighter, or lover.

You’re a decision by health and safety,
a boring compromise,
you’re the safest, dullest option
wrapped up in colourful lies.

Es-el-twleve-ten

P1080723-001Spin something on your decks, DJ,
lay down a battered beat.
Build it from the back,
down the spine, to the feet.

a reggae punk rock rhythm,
an acid house own goal;
let new beats on the block
meet old school northern soul

Turn the tables,
break it down,
build it up again,
roll the bass line,
feel it move,
take it to the end.

This is our social-ism,
all for one and one for all,
late nights early mornings
with our backs against the wall.

Sweaty basements, sticky floors,
a loose and ragged sound;
The Zap Club, Sunday morning,
something lost, a little found.

Inspired by working at The Zap Club, the Basement in Brighton, Factory in Worthing and WAG in London; all those clubs where people came together, brought together by the music.

Spin Doctors

Twisting
Turning
Spinning

and spun, dizzy,
he was
left facing the wrong way –

and we –
all facing the other way –
listened

“I only know what I believe”

he said –
we, unspun, replied

“we only believe what we know”

A poem inspired by Tony Blair, Britain’s worst Prime Minister.

I only believe in facts

I only believe in facts, he said,

As if facts are something you can pin down,
like a butterfly in a box,
numbers in a trainspotter’s notebook,
or a stamp in an album;

I find that the most exciting facts
wriggle;
Argue with you;
Turn around just when you thought you had them tamed
and give your fingers a nasty nip.

I like facts that fight back,
that – when you see them alongside new, fresh facts (just caught) –
have to be thought
about again.

I like facts that are dark, matter
most because of their uncertainty,
fall down the cracks between other facts,
are blurred, smudgy, indistinct.

I only believe in facts, he said,
as if they are on or off;
but  facts can be
wet or dry, loud or quiet, smooth or rough.

It just depends on where you stand
and how you handle them.

Writing poems in the library’s basement

In another world, I’m a successful poet. In this one, I write poems sometimes, perform them infrequently, and once a year run a poetry workshop for children at the local library.

With a small group of quiet children and another poet called Wendy Greene, we gather words and write a collaborative poem.

This year, as part of a series at the library exploring the world, our theme was ‘Africa’. We had 45 minutes. I wove tales of empire and immigration as the children created a wordlist – they were most inspired by animals, landscape and pattern.

An African poem by Tali, Kate & India

River, jungle,
rhythm hot,
Long grass, trees,
vine and creepers,
in the land that time forgot

River, jungle,
rhythm hot,
Hiding, creeping,
wild and dangerous,
must survive no matter what

River, jungle,
rhythm hot,

Colour, pattern,
weave together
in an African melting pot

John Peel

This poem, of course, owes more to WH Auden than my imagination. I’m sure he won’t mind, as I’d imagine he’d have been a John Peel fan.

For John Peel

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Shut down the radio stations: leave the dial alone,
Silence the piano, guitar, bass and drums
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let the airwaves be empty overhead
Leaving unsaid the message He Is dead,
Let the dancers be still – stop the techno beat:
Let the nightclub DJs pause, let the silence be complete.

He was my North, my South, my East, my West,
My top ten and my all-time best,
My 45, C60, my talk, my song;
I thought than John Peel would live for ever: I was wrong.

The rock stars are not wanted now: silence them all;
Pack up New Order, The Undertones, The Fall;
Put away the records and don’t play them again

For nothing now will ever sound the same

An old poem for a long-past Poetry Day

This was commissioned by the Worthing Herald for National Poetry Day; I’d marked the previous National Poetry Day by being poet in residence, writing poems about the week’s news. This poem was supposed to celebrate the way that the paper was part of the fabric of life in the town, from the hills to the beach; thoroughly there at every moment in everyday life. The editor thought it was just encouraging people to burn the paper so he didn’t print it.

We rose early and
made paper aeroplanes
from pages of last week’s paper;
we threw them from the highest point
of tattered Teville Gate,
and watched them drift over
the empty, old Norfolk Hotel;
further south towards the Town Hall tower;
and west towards the Creative Quarter.

We made banners from the sports pages
and waved them high as we marched for Fair Trade
and against Tetra masts.

We wrapped morning-caught fish
in the small ads,
ate our local catch with chips for lunch.

Later we made an armada of paper boats
and launched them from the landing stage
of the Art Deco pier;
watched them drift in the lazy late afternoon sun,
west to Littlehampton and out
to the distant, just-visible Isle of Wight.

And as the sun set we stood on Highdown hill
and lit the fire under a hot air balloon
(a two foot wide ball of twisted withy sticks
and pages from the business section and glue)
and watched it float high over Worthing
before it was lost in the fading light
and caught by its own flames.

From here to you

You might notice I have an interest in place, in navigation, in the routes we take from one thing to another. While it usually takes a more serious tone, here’s another new poem, just written to play with the descriptive way we give directions – but I’ve road-tested it and it gets a laugh when read out loud, which never happens with my stuff usually.

Cutting over town,
across the park
below the hills,
through the twitten,
behind the swiss hotel,
round the royal crescent,
slide past the library,
around the edge of the centre,
under the back of the gasworks,
and down to the front;

the quickest route from here to you.

A new poem

Here’s a short poem, from a batch of loose, scruffy and ragtag ideas I’ve been playing with lately. I’ve tried a couple out in public and they’ve gone down well… I may give them all a haircut and a shave and turn them into real poems.

A terminus without a trainline:
A suitcase without a holiday;
A book without a font;
A king without a coronation;
A map without a route;
And a chair without you.

Prize-winning poetry

I haven’t been out and about much as a poet in the last year, as I’d lost the ability to write. But in the last couple of months I have felt inspired again and produced a few sketches, thoughts and ideas that might shape up into something altogether epic. I road-tested a couple at a poetry night in a cramped room upstairs at the Lewes Arms last night, performing alongside Russ Bravo (pictured).

They got a good response.

However, there was a limerick competition in the interval, with a theme of John Terry, his team mates and their assorted girlfriends, wives and mistresses. And the crowd chose my effort as the winner – so I’m now officially a prize-winning poet thanks to this:

Our new national sport is wife swapping
We’re all busy changing and chopping
and our wives don’t complain
cos they do the same
when they’re not too busy with shopping