In May and June 2017 I am Poet-in-Residence in Alexandra Road Park in North West London. I’ll be working with the community surrounding the park, delving into its history, running some events, but predominantly I am writing poems about this unique, brutalist square of nature in Camden. This is in association with The Poetry School and Open Squares & Gardens.
On Saturday 17 June 2017, I spent the day at Alexandra Road Park. It was amazing. We built a tree of poems and had members of the community write their thoughts, poems and memories on paper leaves which we then added to the tree. Out of these leaves I made the poem you’ll see below. Most of the participants were an excellent group of children who live on the neighbouring estate, so this poem is very much for them.
for Alexandra Road Park
The park is a growing flower expanding
as people enter, your mother for example,
her pregnant belly full of the new colour of you.
You, who rubs lavender between your fingers,
who found a cat trapped in the thorny bushes
and helped it find the scent of home.
You know the park in yellow dappled light
and on grey mornings, you grew up
between these trees and green copses,
measured your legs against benches.
You know all the park’s sacred places,
where the leaves bend under the wind,
where the trees form a holloway, as if bowing
. their heads to pray.
You got friction burns of the slide
and vertigo from the swings,
you watched shadows grow on summer nights
and collected golden armfuls of special things.
This was where you learnt the thirst of summer,
the blue excitement of winter, where you first felt frost,
and saw the silver genesis of morning dew.
. Remember this park,
its neat geometrics, remember the way music speaks
through the bushes, it will remember you,
remember your fingerprints on its walls,
remember the wild red shout of your shoes.
I’d always thought of gardening as an art of precision,
of planting at just the right time, hemming bushes
so they’re in exactly the right position, sewing seeds
like delicate pleats. Poppy seeds – it seems – are an exception.
The gardener chucks a random handful in all directions.
Perhaps this is how good constellations were made.
Anyone could plant like this, she says, even you,
and showers seeds into my palm. I scatter them like prayers
into the galaxy of dirt, trust the ground to know what to do.
Kids have left small offerings
in ritual circles on the stony
bench: small fruit, a leaf, a stick, all made holy
by rain, sunlight and careful positioning.
The children must have organised
after finding a leaf, freshly picked;
sent scouts out for matching leaves, sticks,
another for fruit of the right size.
We cherish what we find,
leave it as a mark of where we were.
Even as children we are aware
of all the things we leave behind.
ALEXANDRA ROAD PARK
The benches clap under parkour feet,
footballs shout hallelujahs against walls
on Sunday mornings and neighbours wail
IT’S EARLY, WE’RE TRYING TO SLEEP
but mostly this place is quiet, somewhere
you can walk in circles for hours and figure
stuff out. The park grew, year on year,
once full of packed slides and May fairs,
but in the 80s fences snapped, it grew dark
rust and shadow weeds. Now it sings a cut-grass note.
Rose petals settle on the shoulders of old folk
and skateboards chuckle round the park.
The council has brought in a gardener who knows
where’s best to plant. The people, with the park, grow.