Kira Nelson held her first public performance in her new role as Poet for Places at London’s Ham Yard Hotel in Soho on Monday night. Kira was in conversation with HOLT Chairman Sir Laurie Magnus CBE and performed three of her latest poems, alongside a discussion about exploring London’s secret histories.
The sold-out evening saw a wonderfully broad audience including Professor Thomas Betteridge, Dean of Business, Arts and Social Sciences at Brunel University London, Richard Upton, creative entrepreneur and developer, Doug Black, Head of Urban Design at Lambeth Council, Shaw Worth & Marianne Doherty, Poetry Editors at Oxford Review of Books, Arnaud Mbaki, who had previously held the role in 2021 and other young poets all joining us.
Kira’s poems explored themes around loss and transition, focusing on old Columbia Market and a surviving piece of the once epic building; a 1960s street sculpture by leading graphic designer FHK Henrion in Bromley, Kira’s birthplace; and the palatial 18th century Wanstead House – with Wanstead Grotto in Wanstead Park the only physical evidence of the grand mansion lost in 1825.
“There is no place in the world like London - it’s just an epicentre of culture and history and the HOLT projects I’ve seen so far truly exemplify that.”
Kira’s first three poems can be found here.
Introducing Tears of the Nymph, about Wanstead Grotto, Kira said:
"All that remains of the Grotto is the façade but you can tell how beautiful and ornate it once was. It contained so many curiosities, cubby holes and statues. Grottoes used to be a huge part of the ancient world so the Grotto was like a time-travelling example of what used to be there. It really allowed me to tap into that ancient mythos. I got to wear my hi-vis and hard hat – look a bit cool! There was so much that could have been said about this place, the fact that I’ve written three stanzas isn’t enough – I could have written far more!"
Over the year, Kira will uncover London’s secret places and curiosities, interpreting them lyrically in new ways. She will also be working with young people to enhance their creative writing skills as part of HOLT’s Proud Places youth engagement programme. Her body of work will be compiled for publication at the end of the year.
The Poet for Places programme is in its second year, and is run in collaboration with Brunel University, bringing historic sites, research, poetry and creative perspectives together over the year.
Looking forward to the rest of the year, Kira said:
"It’s not just about building a big body of work but about the significance of the work that we are doing and making sure that whatever mark I’ve left at the time of the passing of the torch is an impactful one. I want to do the best that I can, enjoy it and celebrate these places while teaching young minds, introducing them to these places and poetry itself."
Sir Laurie Magnus CBE, Chairman, said:
“We are so fortunate to have Kira, I really hope that she will continue to be involved in working with HOLT long after this year is complete.”
Ella Fabregat, Partner, Knight Frank, who also joined us for the evening said:
“I was completely amazed by Kira’s talent and very moved by her poems and clear passion for her new appointment. The conversation between her and Sir Laurie Magnus was fascinating and I think it is an incredible opportunity.”
Huge thanks to Kit Kemp and Firmdale Hotels for hosting the event.
Poet for Places 2023 is in partnership with Brunel University London and generously supported by the Caledonia Investments Charitable Foundation.