A few months ago, I received an owl from Hogwarts. Secrecy being what it is, I could not reveal the true reason for my recent trip to Britain until now.
I have been recalled to my position as Poetics Master after an extended sabbatical in the New World. I objected to the recall, having built a comfy little life here, and after prolonged negotiation was able to come to an arrangement where I can remain in Hillsborough, teaching my classes remotely using a combination of bi-location and VoIP.
As part of the arrangement, this Saturday afternoon at the Read With Me bookshop in downtown Raleigh, I’ll be holding a special poetry workshop for young witches and wizards. Since poems are simply magical spells cast in the mind of the reader, we’ll learn how to better construct these spells to express and evoke powerful emotions.
If you know any aspiring students who would like practical instruction in the magical art of poetry, they should register at Read With Me. Send an owl or visit their website.
While I was in London, I was a little distracted so I missed that my poem Portrait in Violet had been accepted and published in Mused – the BellaOnline Literary Review. I wrote this poem on April 2nd as part of the 2018 Poem-a-Day Challenge when prompted to write a portrait poem.
I think this is the quickest turnaround for me between composition and publication.
Posted in Poetry
Tagged mused, portrait
This will be my last post from London. One of the reasons I decided to come here and explore the city was because of the history. In addition to the usual statues and monuments, there are almost a thousand little blue plaques scattered around the city marking the places important events occurred or important people lived. I’m sure I noticed at least a couple every day on my adventures and most of them I had no idea who or what was being commemorated.
For example, today I visited the homes of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot and on the way I ran into the house where Sir Charles Stanford lived. I had to look him up on my phone before I realized that I’d heard some of his compositions on the classical music channel I listen to most mornings.
I had to ask a helpful shopkeeper where to find Mr. Pound’s house. It seemed like she’d been asked before. The street he lived on is very short and it looks like there’s an apartment building now with his street number. Instead his front door was hidden off a little alleyway. Seemed like a nice enough place, none the less.
The apartment where T. S. Eliot lived his final years and died was easier to find. From what I read online, his widow continued living there until her death in 2012. I think it’s safe to assume there’s someone else living there now. I’d pay a premium to live in the same apartment as T. S. Eliot!
Earlier this week I also found a blue plaque for the place Gandhi lived while he studied law in England. He has at least two statues in London, one in Parliament Square Garden, a nice contrast to the rest of the admirals and generals there.
I’ve had a lot of fun these past couple of weeks but it’s time to get back home. I wonder if they’ll let me back into the country…
Posted in Poetry
Tagged poets, travel
I took a little boat ride on the Thames to the Royal Observatory Greenwich and wandered into the Eastern Hemisphere.
My Oyster Card, which is what I’ve been using to ride the Underground all over London, also covers their river services. They actually run boats along the Thames as standard public transport here. I was enjoying myself until a school’s worth of kids showed up on a field trip and pretty much took over the ship. Fortunately for me they were only going to the Tower of London so I didn’t have to deal with the noise for too long. I know they were going to the Tower because I heard multiple teachers and/or chaperones threaten the most boisterous with not going to the Tower. I think that’s irony.
The highlight of the observatory for me was seeing the last surviving section of the Great Forty-Foot telescope built by William Herschel in the 1780s. This device allowed him to be the first human to see Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Mimas. I’m a big fan of Herschel’s as he’s also the first human to notice the planet Uranus and he did it from his backyard in Bath, England with a telescope he made himself.
Obligatory selfie with my feet in different hemispheres.
The most popular part of the Royal Observatory’s ground is the Prime Meridian where we start counting longitude. I didn’t realize that it had migrated slightly over the years as the Royal Astronomers built better equipment to calculate stellar positions which was half the problem for determining a ship’s longitude at sea. The other half was having an accurate timepiece in the era of pendulum driven clocks which was also a major exhibit at the observatory. The Prime Meridian has actually moved a little further east since we’re mostly using GPS these days.
I took the train back to London and traveled under the Thames a couple of times along the way, a satisfying coda to the excursion.
Now I can claim to have an international audience since I’ve read poetry in England. I participated in Poetry Unplugged, the Poetry Society’s weekly open mic at their Poetry Cafe. Our host, Mr. Niall O’Sullivan did a great job of keeping things rolling but what impressed me the most was how polite the poets were.
According the website if there are less than 25 readers then we’d get five minutes each. If it goes over 25 and we only get four. This evening there were 37 readers! I’ve been to plenty of “over-booked” open mics where the poets don’t respect their time limit but there were only a few who even got close to four minutes. Most stayed in the two to three minute range which I think is just about perfect.
Since we were pressed for time, I decided to only read two, Jane Avril and Milkshakes and Chilidogs. Both were well received and I’m content with my reading. As with all open mics one finds a mix of veteran performers and rookies, a mix of funny poetry, angry poetry, sad poetry, good poetry and bad poetry but overall this was one of the better open mics for quality. I highly recommend it as a great way to spend a Tuesday evening in London.
During his introduction, Mr. O’Sullivan asked that we not smoke in front of the cafe because the vent keeping us cool in the basement pulls air from there. A little after I completed my reading, we all started smelling something kinda like cigarette smoke but not quite cigarette smoke. Our host made a sly comment which the audience seemed to think was hilarious but I, of course, have no idea why.
Westminster Abbey was underwhelming but I’m still glad I paid my fee and got inside. This nasty English weather meant I had to stand in the bright hot sun in a long line for almost an hour but the guides at the entrance were suggesting it would ninety minutes or more. They may have been exaggerating to scare some people off. The entrance fee was also supposed to twenty-two pounds but they’d run out of audio guides so they were letting everybody in half price.
Unfortunately no photography was allowed inside and I was glad that everyone respected it. The most impressive tomb was that of Queen Elizabeth I. The carving on her sarcophagus was exquisite and the detail on her face in what I assume is white marble was quite lifelike, ironically enough.
I really went for Poets’ Corner but I discovered that few of the writers honored there are actually interred there. Chaucer, Browning and Tennyson are really there but most of the stones set in the floor are just a “Hall of Fame” for England. Still it was nice to see the giants enshrined, Blake, Burns, Byron, Eliot and some guy named Shakespeare.
I was a little surprised to see that Ted Hughes had a stone there, not because I doubt his quality, it’s just that he only died twenty years ago. I think he’s the most recent addition to Poets’ Corner.
I was also looking forward to seeing Isaac Newton’s tomb but it and the rest of Scientists’ Corner were roped off because some musicians were rehearsing for a performance of Haydn’s “Creation”. So while I could see the magnificent sculpture of Newton it was only from a distance. I also was unable to visit Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking. Very disappointing.
Since I couldn’t take any pics inside, here’s an exterior of the west end of the Abbey where they have statues of ten 20th century martyrs. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is fifth from the left. I only recognized two other names, I’m ashamed to report. From left to right: Maximilian Kolbe, Manche Masemole, Janani Luwum, Elizabeth of Russia, MLK, Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John, Lucian Tapiedi and Wang Zhiming.
Posted in London 2018
Old Bunhill Fields Burial Ground
How old is this tree
under whose branches
What’s left of George Fox
is somewhere nearby.
Maybe his flesh fed the tree
whose leaves form a dome
of green protecting
me from this strange
sunny day in London.
I see faces in the gnarled bark,
my predecessors coming up for air,
nonconformists, dissenters, Friends.
I would climb this tree
but the lowest branches
are out of reach
and neither my claws nor wings
are strong enough to lift my bulk
unlike the squirrels and birds
who know the truth,
beg for alms
yet remain silent.
I am one of the thousand leaves
sprouting from high branches
furthest from the earth
yet utterly dependent
upon it for life.
Bunhill Burial Grounds
Today I visited the grave of one of my favorite poets, almost.
The Bunhill Burial Grounds is in the eastern half of London. Apparently the name “Bunhill” might be from “Bone Hill” as this area is reputed to have been a burial site for over a thousand years. There are several well known people buried here including John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe and Thomas Bayes, who developed Bayes Theorem for determining the probability of a given event. According to the map I was very close to Rev. Bayes grave but his stone must be too deteriorated to be read, as are most of the graves in Bunhill.
John Bunyan’s Crypt
William Blake, the great poet, artist and mystic is also buried here though the exact position of his remains are not marked. Apparently he was interred in what is now a lawn surrounded by benches, a very peaceful place to read as I can attest. There are also some apartments with balconies which overlook the cemetery. Location. Location. Location!
Bunhill burial ground was nondenominational so it was used by many nonconformists, meaning someone who wasn’t part of the Church of England. That’s why so many great thinkers and artists are buried there. Nonconformity is simply a synonym for creativity.
After my visit I had lunch at the William Blake Pub about a block away and watched the Belgium – Tunsia World Cup match under the protective gaze of a portrait of Mr. Blake.
At the entrance to the British Library ‘Newton’ After William Blake by Eduardo Paolozzi
Although the British Library has over 200 million things to read there, I decided not to bother getting a Reader Pass in favor of checking out their small museum of rare and valuable documents. Unfortunately, everything was under glass but I honestly didn’t expect them to let me handle medieval manuscripts even though I would’ve been careful. Honest!
None the less, their Treasures Gallery kept my attention for hours. I got to see various manuscripts including one of Beethoven’s sketches for the final movement of his Pastoral Symphony, one of Shakespeare’s first folios, a first edition of the King James Bible, one of the four remaining original Magna Cartas and some third century papyrus fragments from the Gospel of John.
But the highlights for me were one of William Blake’s manuscripts for a major work that he never finished which included an illustration, one of Robert Burns’ notebooks where he’s working on his poems in both English and Scots and an early draft that Sylvia Plath sent to her editor with some of her edits. I guess it’s nice to see these poetic giants crossed out lines and inserted words just like me.
My apologies for the lack of pictures from this visit. The library does not permit photography and the ones I took didn’t turn out good anyway.
Finally, on the “Lower Ground” floor there was a fascinating piece of art called Paradoxymoron. It looked like a painting of some library book stacks but as I walked towards it they began moving around in a way that paintings of stacks of books usually don’t. I realized it was playing with my depth perception so I was weaving and bobbing as I approached close enough to see how it was done. The art is very three dimensional with two large trapezoidal protrusions coming out of the wall. The illusion breaks down when you get too close or when viewed from an extreme angle and tt’s also only apparent if you’re in motion so I thought I’d take a video but quickly realized that my camera has only one eye.
Happy Solstice! To celebrate I went the farthest north that I plan to go in London: Hampstead. While still accessible by underground, it feels very much like the smaller towns and villages that I’ve visited elsewhere in Britain. I walked through quaint old shops near the tube station, then through a residential area until I found Hampstead Heath. It’s a wonderfully wild large urban park, mostly tree covered but with some meadows, the highest of which offered a view of downtown London with it’s skyscrapers.
Then I walked through another neighborhood to find Highgate Cemetery. This is another of the “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries which is partially maintained and partly covered in ivy. Karl Marx is the most famous denizen here. His original grave was far off the main travel lanes in one of the less well maintained areas but was moved in 1954 to a more prominent location. George Eliot is also interred near Marx but again a little off the beaten path.
I asked one of the grounds crew why it was that some areas are nice and tidy and the rest are returning to their natural state. I had hopes that they operate on some sort of decadal schedule for which sections to work and which to leave fallow. Alas, the simpler answer was money. It’s a private cemetery and even with new burials and charging visitors an entry fee they can’t hire enough staff to maintain it all. Apparently the cemetery went completely bankrupt in the mid-twentieth century and place totally went to seed until the current trust bought it for one pound and while they’re still afloat, they are struggling.
The unexpected highlight for me was finding the grave of Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I didn’t know he was buried here and when I found the grave I was delighted by the “42” marker and a collection of pens next to his tombstone. Being a poet I always have a pen at hand so I left mine in gratitude for the laughs he gave me back in college.
By the way, I’ve been posting additional images from my London adventures on my Instagram feed, @bartbarkerpoet. Why not follow me? What’s the worst that could happen?