Capturing London In Verse


We’re in the Southbank Centre, the home of The Poetry Library. It’s one of those grey London days where sunshine threatens to peak through at any moment, but doesn’t. The brutalist concrete structure of the Royal Festival Hall encompasses us, skateboarders roll below, the Thames rolls along, and the city keeps moving. They all have a story.

This fact is something that SideStory know, and it’s them who have brought us together today—us being three writers and Inua Ellams, poet and playwright. Inua is one of their ‘insiders’—people who know the city and its fabric in detail and with passion, and have a talent for helping others to do so as well.

We’re going on an urban adventure, through words: Capturing London in verse. Describing poets as ‘guerrilla gardeners of language’, Inua explains how it’s the juxtaposition of environment and poetic response to it where the magic happens. The clash between the gritty urban environment and the beauty of language—between London as a place and London as a feeling.

In the three hours we’re together we go on a short walk, and pack in a lot. Using the senses to become aware of what is around us, techniques to consider how we might work them into a poem, and considering frameworks that have gone before, the output is richer than any that usually occurs in my London walks.

Armed with a notebook, of course things happen on the page, but much of it is aloud and in our perceptions and thoughts. You can always be crafting, as it’s a mind-set of creativity rather than a dictionary lexicon, fancy equipment, and quiet space that makes a good writer. The ownership of a ‘rebellious spirit’ you might say.

All of us know and love London, but today we see it through different eyes and a sideways glance. Poetry is about taking what you know, and pushing it to the nth degree. It’s about considering things through a different perspective. As Patrick Geddes said, ‘a city is more than a place in space, it is a drama in time.’ This SideStory led us to create new dramas in the old city, write into and out of ourselves, and place it all on a page.

SideStory run a number of different bespoke tours. Discover them here. Inua Ellams will be launching his new book on Wednesday April 12th.

Filed under: Written & Spoken Word