Documenting Britain


Ever since I was a small child I’ve always loved that vertiginous plunge into other people’s lives you get through not-quite-shut curtains and warped back garden fences. I think poetry has the capacity to do something emotionally similar. My contribution to Documenting Britain, Scavenge, will develop through poems incorporating words taken from overheard conversations, from ads in local shop windows, road signs, place names, house names, graffiti, tattoos – anything and everything that speaks the language of Britain now.

Words from underground

True to my project name, I’ve been scavenging words and phrases from a whole range of different sources. I particularly like doing this with posters and notices on the London Underground – a kind of looting and repurposing of the language of popular culture. I like how the resulting pieces somehow always reveal the shadow side of things. The three poems here were sourced from the underground, except ‘Admissions’ which is made out of words from signs in a hospital foyer.

When it comes to ‘pure’ found text poems, I’ve made myself some rules, such as only collecting words for as long as the journey lasts and then using only these words, with just the occasional linking word like ‘and’ and ‘the’. Working like this, you never know how each piece will take shape, what it will say or how it will be said – dark, reflective, sinister, funny. I love it, the not knowing, the complete letting go of the outcome, which is much easier to do when working with found text.

I’m working on turning some of these pieces into poetry films like this one here, ‘The hours of darkness’. I shot the little bit of footage at a wildlife park. I just found the scenario of the flamingos in this big shed electrifying – it had a real prehistoric/post-apocalyptic feel. The poem, stitched together from in-flight announcements and magazines, takes on an increasingly Big Brotherish tone and I thought the two elements, along with the sounds of the birds, worked together really well. See what you think…

Never-never land

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I love my lungs

the blood chapel

The dangerous gift of joy

Oliver shops online
a watch a laptop
insurance for two cars
top hat white tie and tails
purchases too desolate for him to comprehend
a gritty combo
epic tricks

Sophie shops online
a whole new wardrobe
a summer like no other
two mute items for the price of one
an unstoppable universe
curious games

it’s all included