I’ve had a great time this weekend as a poet-in-residence at Bunhill Fields. I’ve met all kinds of people come to explore this wonderful historic site in the centre of London: some who live nearby, others who have travelled from abroad for the Open Garden Squares Weekend; some with an interest in plants, flowers, trees and gardening, others with an interest in Blake, Defoe, and Bunyan, the great and unconventional British writers buried here; some drawn by the long and somewhat macabre history of the nonconformist burial ground, others happy to wander around in the present.
All of these people helped give me ideas for the poems I worked on over the weekend. I’ve talked to people about the history of Bunhill and the history of poetry, the death (and life) of poetry, and the purpose of poetry today. People have been interested to hear the drafts, and even to make the suggestions about things I should add! Others have been kind enough to share their impressions of the place, their feelings and ideas about the site, and have allowed me to use these in the poems I’ve been creating here. And a fair few people have come right out and asked me: what are you doing here?
It’s a good question. And I told them that what I’ve been doing is the same as everyone else who comes to explore this garden: looking and listening. Each of the gardens open this weekend is unique, and each has something to offer. In Bunhill Fields, history speaks to us about the present. It says something different to each of us, and sometimes its not clear exactly what it might be saying at all. But each place has stories, and that is what I wanted to discover, explore and share during my time here. The poems I wrote in Bunhill Fields are distillations of the unique things I learned, heard, shared and experienced in this garden.
It’s no surprise that the poem’s I’ve worked on and (mostly) finished over the weekend have reflected a balance that is intrinsic to this hidden oasis of calm in the middle of a frenetic city: between the past and the present, between the extraordinary and the mundane, between life and death.
Here’s one of those poems that I started yesterday and managed to finish today, about the many people sharing plots beneath the ground in every corner of the park. You can listen to it here:
Towards the edge of the afternoon, I read the poems created here to some of the people in the park, and that seemed like a great way to end the weekend and the residency: by sharing the experiences and ideas that had been planted and grown in this entrancing place.
You’ll be able to read some of the poems I worked on during the residency over at the Poetry School website. And if you’ve never been to Bunhill Fields, do pop by if you’re ever nearby to see this small but important piece of our history in the heart of the city.