Bunhill Burial Grounds

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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.

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John Bunyan’s Crypt

20180623_120352William 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.

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British Library

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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.

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Highgate Cemetery

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20180621_120708Happy 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.

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20180621_125446I 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.

20180621_125035The 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?

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The British Museum

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Nereid Monument

When I left the hotel this morning to get some tea and pastries, I wasn’t sure yet how I’d spend the day. A few hours later I was touching the Rosetta Stone.

The British Museum was on my list of things to do in London, of course, I just didn’t know which days I’d visit. The weather isn’t hot here, especially not compared to North Carolina this week, but it’s humid enough to get me sweating on long walks. It’ll turn cooler tomorrow so I declared today a museum day.

I love museums though I’m a little uncomfortable with the British Museum since a lot of their collection has been obtained through conquest. None the less, it is impressive to stand in front of the reconstructed Nereid Monument from ancient Lycia. It was the tomb of some king who died almost 2400 years old. Definitely the oldest gravestone I’ve seen, even if it has been moved quite a distance.

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The Rosetta Stone, partially hidden.

The star attraction of the museum is the Rosetta Stone. It’s the exhibit with a clot of humans around it. I was able to push my way to the front to get a good look through the glass but it didn’t seem polite to linger. The stone is hefty. I didn’t expect it to be as large and thick as it was. Nor did I expect the Greek text at the bottom to be as tiny. That was delicate work for someone 1800 years ago.

I asked one of the docents if there was always a crowd clustered around and she said that was sadly the case, however if I wanted to touch it, there’s an replica in another exhibit hall.

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As close as you’ll get to a selfie.

This other Rosetta Stone rests on an angled pedestal for easier study and there was nobody around. I ran my fingers along the cool black rock, caressing the etching, getting intimate with the hieroglyphic and Demotic script, feeling both the earth and the man who carved it.

In this same exhibit hall there were other objects that weren’t replicas but real things available to be touched, under the supervision of museum employees. I held little silver coins cast 2000 years ago, no bigger than a dime, upon which the Latin inscription could still be read. I touched a 6000 year old Egyptian bowl in which women would keep their eye makeup. But most impressive was a 300,000 year old flint axe head fashioned by men before the last ice age and it was still sharp.

I understand why our mothers tell us to look but don’t touch. The Rosetta Stone would be smooth from all the fingers running along its surface for all these years but there’s nothing quite like holding a piece of history in your hand.

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Brompton Cemetery

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Today I walked to one of the so-called Magnificent Seven Cemeteries of London. Brompton Cemetery happens to be nearest my hotel so, despite sleeping in, I still arrived in the middle of the morning. The north end of this expansive graveyard is beautifully overgrown. If I was searching for an ancestor I would have been aggravated but instead I could enjoy the beauty of nature growing wild among the monuments.

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20180619_113008The rest of the grounds were pretty well maintained and while there are plenty of famous graves, none were famous to me. I noticed a Blanche Roosevelt‘s grave because of the life-size statue and then I saw that she was from the States and became a Marchesa, sort of a 19th century Grace Kelly. I wondered if she was one of the Roosevelts from New York but after a brief search online, I doubt it.

For any football fans who are still reading, Brompton Cemetery is right next to Stamford Bridge. In fact, I could see the top of the East Stand while wandering through the graves. I walked around the ground but didn’t take the stadium tour as it was almost time for the Colombia-Japan match which I watched at the Chelsea Pensioner pub with two humans and two dogs.

I love Europe.

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London 2018

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London streetscape near the Royal Albert Hall

I regret to report that my streak of consecutive World Cups has ended. I was unable to get tickets to any of the matches in Russia and thought it best not to try to buy game tickets off from the black market there. Of course, ending the streak with Brazil 2014, where I spent a month on vacation for a multiple of both five and ten years birthday is a pretty good final tournament for me.

As a consolation vacation, I’m spending two weeks in London. I watched the Sweden-South Korea over fish and chips at the Hoop & Toy pub near South Kensington station. That was one of the few places where people weren’t taking selfies. I can’t complain too much since I’m also a tourist here but expect no selfies from me.

20180618_103029Unless it’s in a cemetery, of course.

One of the monuments not getting much attention was this statue of the composer Béla Bartók. He would live in one of the flats not far from my hotel when he was performing in London.

After a sleepless seven hour flight and standing in line for two hours to clear customs at Heathrow, I’m done for the day. Normal travel blogging begins tomorrow.

 

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Poetical Science

money-money-money-1241634-640x480To further my poetry career,
I’m going into politics.

Imagine how many expensive
suits would pay good money
for a poem on demand
written by a big city mayor
or governor. They’d line
up for blocks with stacks
of cash offering words
like eminent domain,
deregulation and immunity.

And if I could get elected
president, the CEOs and lobbyists
would buy so many books
they’d need warehouses
to store the boxes.
I would visit stadiums
from Moscow to Jerusalem
packed with cheering citizens,
encouraged to attend my readings.

They might give me a wreath of laurels
but would I ever get an honest critique?

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Who Needs Sight?

This poem was from this week’s Living Poetry Prompt, believe it or not.

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Who Needs Sight?

I’d rather be blind
than struck deaf.

Vision is too distracting.
I don’t need eyes
in the back of my head
to hear someone approach.

Who needs sight
when we swim
in an ocean
of sound?

Bubbling laughter of women
Harsh taunts of blue jays
Summer wall of cicadas
Distant mourn of coyotes

Tip tap of falling rain
Cursive swirl of wind
Sharp crumbling leaves
Singular silence of snow

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Potty Training

The image below is from Living Poetry’s May Visual Poetry Prompt.

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Potty Training

There is no greater joy
in the life of a parent
than when their furry
child poops outside.

Then life can settle
into a routine,
no more high alerts
whenever the puppy
leaves the room
or begins sniffing
the corners or circling
a suspicious spot.

A doggie door
and fenced yard
means no more midnight
emergency diarrhea
walks or mad dashes
home after working late.

Dogs are more than bark
alarms and crumb vacuums.
They are our primal companions
and the young of both species
need to be house broken.

 

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Last Slice of Life

Thirty poems in thirty days, hope you’ve enjoyed my work this National Poetry Month.

For today’s prompt, write a closing time poem. Or another way of coming at this prompt is to write a poem in which something is coming to an end–like this month’s poetry challenge. Could be the end of a concert, an era, or whatever else must come to a close.

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Photograph: HANDOUT/AFP/Getty Image

Last Slice of Life
for David Goodall

When there’s less than a glass
of wine left in the bottle
I finish it before it turns to vinegar
even if it was delicious.

Especially if it was delicious.
I don’t leave the last slice
of pizza to molder in my fridge
nor the last piece of pie.

Life can be just as fleeting.
Why cling to the last days
like a car that spends more time
in the shop than on the road?

If I decide someday
I’ve lived too long,
don’t cite archaic laws
of God or man.

The only thing I truly own is my body.
Let me go in peace.

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