I am still an outsider, but in some ways estrangement is inherent to London. So many of its citizens are immigrants like me, and even those who are born and raised in one part of the city still feel like strangers in other neighbourhoods, owing to those two major drivers of culture–race and class.
Perhaps this is the case in any big city. But in one continuously occupied for two thousand years, we tread lightly over layers of history. We are all strangers together, a tradition dates back to when “multiculturalism” meant Romans and Saxons coexisting, meant welcoming in Huguenots, Lascars, and the Kindertransport.
The driving force that shapes the city’s physique is capitalism, and there is some sense in which all Londoners–from bankers to bus boys–are ready to dodge a hard slap from the invisible hand. Ducking and diving, fleet-footed, we make our way across the moving sands of a post-post-Imperial landscape where some version of Ozymandias looks down from every cornice and plinth. One is never more aware of the transience of human fate, both historically and individually, than when in London.
To me, this is a poetic city, of the strain of poetry I like best–not the stately il pleure of Paris or the refined Dolce Stil Novo of Florence, but a hotchpotch of cabbages and kings, what Samuel Johnson observed to contain “all that life can afford.”
Naturally, I have written a number of poems about London, and intend to keep at it as inspiration strikes. Here is a map showing where these poems have been set, including in many cases links to online journals where you can read and/or listen to the poems.
(Click the image to see the interactive map, then click the makers to see the links where applicable.)