London St Pancras
Imagine a city
painted in silver-sewn elephant dung –
daubed up to the nines
and shaped in shards and domes.
This is a glitter city, sitting on a serpent,
turning its one, unseeing eye upwards,
away from yet another mother’s fallen face
and the drip, drip, drip of salty snow-globe sons.
Now climb aboard –
Let us leave London and cross Kent together.
a blank canvas stretched over ancient chalk quarries
for your careful square boxes of urban renaissance.
Give us the hues of a new garden city,
give us the colours of dreamy and wonder:
rich cowslip yellows and chalk fragrant orchids.
Give us much more than your tarmac and mortar.
What are you passing?
What are you missing?
Victorian monsters and half hidden mysteries.
East of Ebbsfleet,
there is a landscape.
(Make it specific)
A chalk pit.
Our guide holds the camera steady
but smudges the lens at the edge of her memory
so all we see is the trick in the bear pit.
What is a drawdock?
Where is the broadwalk?
The answers she gives are cruelly distorted:
tragic, romantic and too enigmatic
like the songs that she sings to the lost Princess Alice
of trapezes and steamers, temples and arbours.
This, for your pleasure, is Rosherville Gardens.
In the hermit’s cave
she takes a selfie –
sees herself at The Devil’s Elbow,
sees herself all sodden and shaky:
her day-tripper’s grin like a mask of cold beauty.
this is the joy of noise that lifts our spirits to the skies,
a choir formed to swoop and dive,
to share the freedom-cry of black backed gulls
whose notes of liberty
ring the Lightship’s bell,
like an alarum,
sending south-eastern songs of solidarity
Energised and underrated:
if you were to recreate, meticulously,
each impassioned speech
along this connected stretch of line;
if you were to draw out
the naked drummer’s careful cacophony
in harmony with our friend, the fox;
charcoal sketch the net-curtained tower blocks
and hidden rosehips in the dark-edged woods,
you would still not, my friend,
have in your artist’s hand, half the songs,
the poetry, the weight of prose created by these folk –
famished, skint, frustrated
but fiercely wide-awake.
friends, Romans, pilgrims –
enter with us our ancient hostelries
and raise a glass to the wife of Bath
or Thomas Becket.
Raise another to exhilaration,
to greyhounds and speedways
and the fast train out of town.
And when you pass us by,
or pass out,
exposed like a kneeling nude,
then raise your last glass
to the confusion of the curious
and the freedom of the day to dream.
you lick your hoppy lips and laugh out loud.
What kind of cider could be pressed from such a chalky flesh?
Oh give me flagons,
give me mellow fruit and orchards of mist,
but spare me this.
This is not an apple.
What kind of thing is this?
You try to shrug it off
but then turn back
to stare again and sigh.
A line comes to you,
wriggling like a maggot though your mind:
Is this my life through someone else’s eyes?
And like the maggot, we plough on
and start to leave the land:
with sea-salt shacks, oyster beds
and static caravans:
the sense that everything must end –
a briny blending in
of land with sea,
sea with sky,
sludge-brown with blue
and blue with white.
The Seaside Towns:
Whitstable, Herne Bay, Birchington-on-Sea, Westgate-on-Sea
under a bridge,
a lone voice sings a shanty –
the notes gather low and echo out,
knocking against the doors and windows
where prosecco glasses raise
a toast to the radical outraged.
‘Are you shocked?
Please, tell me you are shocked.’
The lone voice stops,
picks up her rucksack,
blows on frozen hands
and heads to buy a bag of chips
to eat beside the sea,
under a crescent moon and silver stars,
barefoot on golden sands.
Imagine a bedroom on Canterbury Road,
just far enough back from the sea
that the closed curtains don’t matter anyway.
And imagine a girl, fifteen maybe –
her bed unmade.
This is what you must curate.
You steady your Argos pencil against
your crumpled piece of paper
2 tampons, still wrapped.
One tampon, used.
Serviettes from Subway.
A tea bag separated from its mug.
A plastic lunch box.
A Costa Card.
A periodic table.
A woman’s leather glove.
Will anyone cross the line to pillow fight,
to pinch a tampon, wear the glove?
Is there some woman, right now,
setting out from Wales with her sleeves rolled up.
to sort this out, to clean it up?
On the platform,
the messy-bedroom-girl chews gum
and watches us pull in.
You step off the train
and take a breath of icy air:
Your tired eyes dart to new horizons:
the sickle beach,
the harbour’s crooked arm.
This is Dreamland.
Beneath the underground echo
of a million shells,
you hear a voice –
candyfloss soft and strange:
it whispers that to cross the line is fine.
You hesitate, wait,
then with outstretched hand,
you take a rebel chance.
The sea roars.
The gulls call.
The crab claws applaud.
You take your bow.
Thanks to Gravesham Borough Council and the Connect Together partners for the opportunity to create this poem, and to the past Turner Prize winners and shortlisted artists Chris Ofili, Oscar Murillo, Charlotte Prodger, Elizabeth Price, Mark Wallinger, Wolfgang Tillmans, Anish Kapoor, Susan Philipz and Tracey Emin for their inspiring works of art. But the last word has to go to the people of Kent who know exactly how art makes them feel.