Sensing Spaces, Wandering Words

About

As one of a dozen poets commissioned by Ekphrasis, I wrote poems in response to the Sensing Spaces architectural exhibit at the Royal Academy. We all read these poems in situ at the RA on March 7th, 2014 as part of an evening of "Wandering Words".

The Poems

Banshee Tubes after the installation by Diébédo Francis KéréSo here's where all those plastic straws discarded from my boyhood sugar drinks finally found a place they could retire.Bent and pinched, looped and bundled up, they decorate the honeycomb cave with crowd-sourced, multi-coloured porcupinery.Someone made a spider’s web in the corner. Another built a pitch fork all in tubes. The birth canal is spiked in rainbow hues.An infant gums the straws on the other side, her green eyes signal “go” to new experience while tweenies wrap wrists in pink and blue.At night, the straws convene secret communities, swap places in small but hard-to-prove ways, tell stories of the old days, sing folk tunes.Sometimes they catch the breeze of an open vent, and whistle like reed beds, these lithe discarded choristers, bright wailing rubbish, banshee tubes.<a href="https://soundcloud.com/peakepoetics/banshee-tubes?in=peakepoetics/sets/sensing-spaces-wandering-words" target="_blank">Listen to "Banshee Tubes" read aloud.</a>The Doorway from Portugal after the installation by Eduardo Souto de MouraThe Brandenburg Gate in no-man's land, a claim jumper's mark in the Wild West, entry to an invisible garden, ruined city, portal into the future or the past.Space can be described by what it is not, the no-thing taking place behind your eyes. Who will you be when you pass through? Ask your lover who they want on the other side.A suspension bridge from floor to floor, two buttresses flying into each other at speed-- make of this arch a body, the body an arch, bring the tips of the fingers together to pray.This is the neck of the womb, gap in the armour, crack in the mirror that reveals the trick, mark of welcome, and way through the rock, start and end of the tunnel, all at once.When you are ready, an arch will emerge, one day, somewhere you least expect it. Close your eyes and walk into the centre, stand there, chanting quietly: I am the door.<a href="https://soundcloud.com/peakepoetics/the-doorway-from-portugal?in=peakepoetics/sets/sensing-spaces-wandering-words" target="_blank">Listen to "The Doorway from Portugal" read aloud.</a>Exhibit: Childhood after the installation by Pezo von EllrichshausenCome build a better tree house for the children past their prime,indoors, on stilts, inside the gilt- trimmed tearooms of old Empire.Lift us up from the marble floor, into a pine-scented elsewhere,eye-to-eye with entertained angels, tweeze us from mid-life into mid-air.Here we can see ourselves from afar, look down on our own balding heads.Come play with me, and be my friend, stranded on a ship within a room.No girls allowed. No boys allowed. Saying the password is the only way in.We sand the rails with our fingerprints. We leave our younger self when we descend.<a href="https://soundcloud.com/peakepoetics/exhibit-childhood?in=peakepoetics/sets/sensing-spaces-wandering-words" target="_blank">Listen to "Exhibit: Childhood" read aloud.</a> The Dance after the installation by Kengo Kuma
"...it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves" -Walt Whitman
What do you get when you remove flame-light from its outline? What is the shape of fire without fire? Bend your wire spectacles into ellipses, mandorlas. Make a chain- link fence from scented bamboo. These are the questions, lit from beneath. Here is a patchwork quilt made only from stitching, the edges remember their serpentine, almondine shape. If wood could belly-dance, see here the strings of the lute, sheen of net on water, steam from a grate, ghosts from below tangled in sizzling light.<a href="https://soundcloud.com/peakepoetics/the-dance?in=peakepoetics/sets/sensing-spaces-wandering-words" target="_blank">Listen to "The Dance" read aloud.</a>Underworld after the installation by Grafton ArchitectsUnder the white blade of the guillotine, under the meat hammer's flat insistence, we amble, making mincemeat of the light.Under the watchtower's square black eye, pacing out laps in the rectangular yard, we tread each other's shadows in a line.Pour me a basilica, mould me a bunker, chip right angles into rock-face defiance, throw a square pot for shade to germinate.Under the cathedral's brutal restructure, we stand and spread our arms in crucifix, divide four panes etched into the floor.We are the lunar eclipse at well-bottom, pebble dropped into the sewer's grate, we turn our face, to see reflections congregate.<a href="https://soundcloud.com/peakepoetics/underworld?in=peakepoetics/sets/sensing-spaces-wandering-words" target="_blank">Listen to "Underworld" read aloud.</a> Please Do Not Walk on the Stones after the installation by Li XiaodongLost in a woodland in London, we put on commuter demeanour, stand right, stride left, corner the twiggy labyrinth quietly.At the room's impossible end, a reflecting garden of stones flaunt their tangible crunch underfoot, but are prohibited:"Please, do not walk on the stones." These are special stones, symbolic stones, unlike you, they are not to be disturbed, as they watchthemselves do stony things in the floor-to-ceiling made-for-stones- only mirror. Sometimes matter matters more than mind, and thistime, stones win. Turn back into the forest that is the middle of your life, the flaking bark and mossy smell you navigate,turn back with a pebble's knowledge in your shoe, shuffling your way into tunnels and bus queues, wearing your face like a stone.<a href="https://soundcloud.com/peakepoetics/please-do-not-walk-on-the?in=peakepoetics/sets/sensing-spaces-wandering-words" target="_blank">Listen to "Please Do Not Walk on the Stones" read aloud.</a>