I was recently commissioned to write a poem for a garden. Odd. And – it turns out – wonderful. It was dreamt up by the visionaries at Hosta, a Nottingham-based horticultural consultancy whose mission is to ‘green the grey’ and try and get our cities breathing again, putting roof gardens on shopping centres and ‘pocket parks’ in previously disused public spaces, giving people a place to relax as they work, shop, and generally just exist in the centre of town. They wanted to incorporate some new writing into their next piece of work to celebrate Nottingham’s recent status as a UNESCO City of Literature and that’s where I came in. The poem was to be engraved on to the walls of their first show garden, a back-to-back pocket park destined for the 2016 Royal Horticultural Society Tatton Park Show in Cheshire which will soon be relocated back to Nottingham for everyone to enjoy. Together we imagined a poem that celebrates the garden as something both apart from, and simultaneously a part of, the city; in conversation with its urban environment rather than in opposition to it. I wanted to explore the idea of the garden as a place of inherent ancestral and anthropological calm, at once strange and familiar, exotic and comforting, stimulating and restorative.
The garden, called ‘A Drop of Urban Green’ and designed by Ed Higgins, won Best Back-To-Back Garden and an RHS Gold Medal at Tatton Park, and was featured on the BBC coverage of the event. Catch it on iPlayer here (featured at 28 minutes in).
We often try and kid ourselves, in the depths of teenage angst and an insatiable craving for individuality, that we have nothing in common with our parents. Especially not the one who makes desperately uncool jokes. God no! And then you go away to university and start inadvertently making those same jokes, and the flimsy tapestry of self-delusion unravels with a warm and fuzzy shrug.
This one is about running, which used to be an enormous part of my life, but is something I’ve hitherto written very little about. There’s definitely a lot more to say, but at least I’m out of the blocks, as it were…
Rather unsurprisingly, a lot of my writing around this time concerned the EU referendum, and so the poems from these 3 weeks inadvertently became a sort of Brexit triptych. The first is a warning, the second some sleep-deprived and probably-misplaced optimism, and the third outright despair/fury. They can be, if not ‘enjoyed’, at least ‘watched’ together.
PAW #14 is a very personal one, about the breakdown (and slow -ongoing- rebuild) of my family. About seeing your parents as 3D, fallible people for the first time. I hope there’s something in it for anyone whose folks have separated. The garden path to happiness is paved with truth, even if the bricks scratch your feet a little, even if it’s covered in weeds…or something like that.
PAW #12 is about John Kennedy Toole, the ill-fated would-be novelist whose book A Confederacy of Dunces was repeatedly rejected by publishers throughout his life, which Toole prematurely ended when he gassed himself in his car in Mississippi, aged 31. The novel was later published when the gatekeepers realised the error of their ways and Toole won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in the 1980s. That’ll teach them.
This is a poem about telling someone you love them for the first time. Or, rather, about the build up to telling someone you love them for the first time. Inspired by a brilliant workshop from Andrew McMillan, and by the wonderful poem ‘Hyphen’ by Geoff Hattersley, I wanted to write something that throws itself off the edge of a narrative cliff, lemming-like, ending where another poem might begin.
This one’s about memory, particularly those early childhood “memories” that are actually just stories you’ve been told over and over, until they solidify into memory. It’s about a really specific bit of Pembrokeshire, and it goes some way to explain why I’m such a touchy-feely weirdo. Lovely jubbly.