From London to Margate.

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Thanks to Gravesham Borough Council and the Connect Together partners for the opportunity to create this poem, and to the past Turner Prize winners and shortlisted artists Chris Ofili, Oscar Murillo, Charlotte Prodger, Elizabeth Price, Mark Wallinger, Wolfgang Tillmans, Anish Kapoor, Susan Philipz and Tracey Emin for their inspiring works of art. But the last word has to go to the people of Kent who know exactly how art makes them feel.

 London St Pancras

Imagine a city

painted in silver-sewn elephant dung –

daubed up to the nines

and shaped in shards and domes.

This is a glitter city, sitting on a serpent,

turning its one, unseeing eye upwards,

away from yet another mother’s fallen face

and the drip, drip, drip of salty snow-globe sons.

 

Now climb aboard  –

Let us leave London and cross Kent together.

 

Ebbsfleet

Restless:

a blank canvas stretched over ancient chalk quarries

for your careful square boxes of urban renaissance.

Give us the hues of a new garden city,

give us the colours of dreamy and wonder:

rich cowslip yellows and chalk fragrant orchids.

Give us much more than your tarmac and mortar.

 

What are you passing?

What are you missing?

Victorian monsters and half hidden mysteries.

 

East of Ebbsfleet,

there is a landscape.

(Make it specific)

A chalk pit.

(Place it)

Northfleet.

(Film it)

Our guide holds the camera steady

but smudges the lens at the edge of her memory

so all we see is the trick in the bear pit.

What is a drawdock?

Where is the broadwalk?

The answers she gives are cruelly distorted:

tragic, romantic and too enigmatic

like the songs that she sings to the lost Princess Alice

of trapezes and steamers, temples and arbours.

This, for your pleasure, is Rosherville Gardens.

(Flip it)

In the hermit’s cave

she takes a selfie –

sees herself at The Devil’s Elbow,

sees herself all sodden and shaky:

her day-tripper’s grin like a mask of cold beauty.

 

Gravesend

Escape:

this is the joy of noise that lifts our spirits to the skies,

(clap, click)

a choir formed to swoop and dive,

to share the freedom-cry of black backed gulls

(clap, click)

whose notes of liberty

ring the Lightship’s bell,

like an alarum,

sending south-eastern songs of solidarity

north-west

in

strange

syncopated

symphonies.

 

Medway

Energised and underrated:

if you were to recreate, meticulously,

every voice,

each impassioned speech

along this connected stretch of line;

if you were to draw out

the naked drummer’s careful cacophony

in harmony with our friend, the fox;

charcoal sketch the net-curtained tower blocks

and hidden rosehips in the dark-edged woods,

you would still not, my friend,

have in your artist’s hand, half the songs,

the poetry, the weight of prose created by these folk –

famished, skint, frustrated

but fiercely wide-awake.

 

Sittingbourne

Relax:

friends, Romans, pilgrims –

enter with us our ancient hostelries

and raise a glass to the wife of Bath

or Thomas Becket.

Raise another to exhilaration,

to greyhounds and speedways

and the fast train out of town.

And when you pass us by,

or pass out,

exposed like a kneeling nude,

then raise your last glass

to the confusion of the curious

and the freedom of the day to dream.

 

Faversham

Bemused:

you lick your hoppy lips and laugh out loud.

What kind of cider could be pressed from such a chalky flesh?

Oh give me flagons,

give me mellow fruit and orchards of mist,

but spare me this.

This is not an apple.

What kind of thing is this?

You try to shrug it off

but then turn back

to stare again and sigh.

A line comes to you,

wriggling like a maggot though your mind:

Is this my life through someone else’s eyes?

 

And like the maggot, we plough on

and start to leave the land:

brush shoulders

with sea-salt shacks, oyster beds

and static caravans:

the sense that everything must end –

a briny blending in

of land with sea,

sea with sky,

sludge-brown with blue

and blue with white..

 

The Seaside Towns:

Whitstable, Herne Bay, Birchington-on-Sea, Westgate-on-Sea

Curious:

under a bridge,

a lone voice sings a shanty –

the notes gather low and echo out,

knocking against the doors and windows

where prosecco glasses raise

a toast to the radical outraged.

‘Are you shocked?

Please, tell me you are shocked.’

The lone voice stops,

picks up her rucksack,

blows on frozen hands

and heads to buy a bag of chips

to eat beside the sea,

under a crescent moon and silver stars,

barefoot on golden sands.

 

Margate

Imagine a bedroom on Canterbury Road,

just far enough back from the sea

that the closed curtains don’t matter anyway.

And imagine a girl, fifteen maybe –

her bed unmade.

This is what you must curate.

You steady your Argos pencil against

your crumpled piece of paper

and write:

 

  • 2 tampons, still wrapped.
  • One tampon, used.
  • Serviettes from Subway.
  • A tea bag separated from its mug.
  • A plastic lunch box.
  • Fur. Fuzz.
  • A Costa Card.
  • A periodic table.
  • A woman’s leather glove.

 

Will anyone cross the line to pillow fight,

to pinch a tampon, wear the glove?

Is there some woman, right now,

setting out from Wales with her sleeves rolled up.

to sort this out, to clean it up?

 

On the platform,

the messy-bedroom-girl chews gum

and watches us pull in.

You step off the train

and take a breath of icy air:

ion-charged.

Your tired eyes dart to new horizons:

the sickle beach,

the harbour’s crooked arm.

This is Dreamland.

Beneath the underground echo

of a million shells,

you hear a voice –

candyfloss soft and strange:

it whispers that to cross the line is fine.

You hesitate, wait,

then with outstretched hand,

you take a rebel chance.

The sea roars.

The gulls call.

The crab claws applaud.

 

You take your bow.

 

 

 

 

 

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