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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.

We were delighted to be broadcast this week on Czech Radio, the country’s national radio station, speaking about the Leaning Woman statue in Hammersmith.

Nicola Stacey spoke to Foreign Correspondent Dr Jaromír Marek about the statue and its history – “In my opinion it is one of the most beautiful sculptures in London” – and Alex Cardew spoke about his mother, the muse for the creation of the sculpture. “She leaned on a broom. She had a music stand in front of her so she could read a book…”

The interviews and full story are here:

„Avantgarda inspirovaná klasicismem.“ Sochu českého autora Karla Vogela v Londýně čeká rekonstrukce

Sochař Karel Vogel, rodák z Českých Budějovic, není u nás příliš známý. Svoji uměleckou kariéru zahájil v předválečném Československu, ale v roce 1938 byl ale nucen emigrovat do Velké Británie. Jeho poslední dílo – obří socha ležící ženy – v londýnské čtvrti Hammersmith se brzy dočká rekonstrukce.

Czech Radio is the national radio station running since 1923 and is just 9 months younger than the BBC, making it the second oldest radio station in Europe. It has over a million daily listeners. The story was first broadcast on the popular Sunday programme called 'Zápisník zahraničních zpravodajů'.

The street sign sculpture in Bromley was created in 1964 by FHK Henrion, the father of corporate branding famous for his wartime Allied propaganda designs. The restored sculpture was unveiled by international graphic artist Lakwena Maciver, whose lavish and colourful work plays with the powerful visual language of advertising and has been working with big brands like H&M – and who was inspired by Henrion’s street sculpture outside her home as a child.

Speaking to the crowd, Lakwena said:

"As a child I had always remembered this sculpture in my mind as an anchor. Because of the shape of it. And interestingly, that is one of the really significant things that art does. It anchors people. It gathers us together and can anchor us to a place. I mentioned that growing up I never felt that I belonged here. My response to that was to make art, to process it and to overcome it. And I’m still doing that. And in the process of making art I have found a place where I belong. So I guess to me this street sculpture is all about belonging, and my hope is that this sculpture is something that might continue to inspire people and connect people to each other and to this place, even those of us who might feel we don’t belong here." German Jewish designer Frederick Henri Kay Henrion (1914–1990) moved as a 22 year old first to Paris to work as a poster designer and then to Britain in 1936. He created some of the most memorable Allied wartime propaganda for the British Ministry of Information – including the iconic poster of four hands tearing the swastika apart. He also worked in 3D and in 1942 designed an exhibition for the anti-fascist ‘Artists International Association’ in a bombed site in Oxford Street, a metal sculpture of doves symbolising the Four Freedoms for which the war was being fought. “I worked about 15 hours a day every day. It was a very fulfilling time because everybody felt what you did was worth doing and needed doing.” After the war, Henrion moved into advertising and fashion, designing covers for Harper’s Bazaar. He was involved in major corporate branding projects, designing, or re-designing, the branding for KLM, British European Airways (becoming British Airways & adopting Henrion’s arrow Union Jack design), Tate + Lyle, London Electricity Board, British Leyland and Coopers & Lybrand. With a collaborator, Ian Dennis, he designed the famous National Theatre logo. “As a young artist I remember being intrigued by the idea that FHK Henrion, this very significant designer, had created such an unusual map of the estate where I lived. In this unexpected way I felt a little personal connection to a part of design history.” – Lakwena

MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, Sir Bob Neill, also attended the unveiling.

Executive Councillor for Renewal, Recreation and Housing, Yvonne Bear, said:

“We are delighted that this historic wayfinding sign, which is iconic locally and has a much wider significance from a design perspective as well, has been restored, meaning it will remain in situ for the coming years. Our thanks goes to the Heritage of London Trust and all those who helped make this possible. We know that people care about their street and the street scene, with this unique sign contributing to this locally as well.” The aluminium and steel sign was corroding with peeling paint and missing blocks and numbers. There were later poor repairs and its concrete cobble base was cracked. The project involved paint analysis, careful restoration of all the metalwork and a renewed base. Local students from Cotelands Alternative Provision and Endeavour Academy schools were involved as part of our Proud Places programme, putting up the hoarding, visiting the blacksmiths at work and creating their own ‘proud’ street maps. The project was supported by The Jones Day Foundation.

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