Saturday, 8 May 2010

Less Land More Text

Poetry in the landscape is not a new thing. In the revolutionary sixties Edwin Morgan had verse on the sails of yachts floating on the Brighton seafront. Agitprop writers chalked text on town hall steps, planted slogans in daffodil bulbs in city parks. Apposite quotations, full of pith or sentiment, have been the staple of gravestones and school premise proscenium arches since the time of the Victorians. What’s new in the recessional twenty-tens in public poetry’s ubiquity.

Cardiff has long had bits of verse out there in its public face. In front of the Central Station stands William Pye’s stone block recreation of Cader Idris embellished with verse snippets by everyone from Dannie Abse to Rhys Dafis. On the waterfront of the Bay’s Inner Harbour John Masefield’s Cargoes is set in iron. “Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack, / Butting through the Channel in the mad March days…” It could well be the Welsh Capital at its industrial height he’s talking about.

And no one could ignore Gwyneth Lewis’s now world-status iconic lines staggering in ancient Roman form across the front of the Wales Millennium Centre.

My own poetry is now in four public sites. A bilingual incantation celebrating spuriel (rubbish) runs along the top of the Lamby Way landfill site. Weather and greenery are taking their toll. A large piece of R S Thomas reprocessed by PF for the digital age rises up the front and then carries on along the corridors of BT’s Internet Datacentre on the Ferry Road peninsular. Around the base of Renn and Thacker’s gleaming silver steel blue-lit lighthouse in front of the new South Wales Headquarters on James Street runs a poem about the races and languages of the city. The ballast bank replaced, the past brought back to life again. My latest, my largest concrete poem yet, is an acrostic made from the various spellings of the word Cardiff as recorded by history. Kerdiv. Cardaif. Gaerdydd. Kerdiff. This straddles the paving as part of Jean-Bernard M├ętais spike and ring L’Alliance outside John Lewis. My largest concrete poem ever, I announced at the unveiling. Doesn’t he know the slabs are made of granite muttered someone from the developers.

The National Poet, Gillian Clarke, is a central component of the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s Landmark Sonnets proposal. This popularist scheme, which apparently has the backing of Gordon Brown, aims to put poetry onto public sites right across the UK. Given the status of the organisers we can expect the verse to be excellent. The locations will be stunning. Gillian’s is already composed. It’s a verse of fish pass and people which will sit somewhere on the Cardiff Bay Barrage alongside a translation into Welsh by Menna Elfyn. Others will follow. Watch the Insider for news of progress.

A version of this posting appeared in the Western Mail as The Insider on Saturday 8th May, 2010 with the world still undecided, well the British world, and the skies full of dark clouds. #146

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