POET FOR PLACES

Introducing Arnaud-William Mbaki as London’s new Poet for Places. Arnaud spent the summer working with young people to share his enthusiasm for London’s heritage, creating poems and spoken word about places that inspire him.

Listen to Arnaud speaking above about his own background and thoughts on identity and rootedness, and how writing has helped define who he is. Find his works below!

 

POEMS

Boston Manor House – In the works

Excited, from walking about this house
during its intricate reconstruction,
I’d this sense of rework

And from the lowest part of my legs to the tallest hair on my head,
I was rebuilding myself from scratch –
preserved hand-made wallpaper, stained glass, and untouched history

filled my lungs with desire, and then nostalgia followed soon after
settling itself in my mind, heart, and soul.
Maybe that feeling was wistfulness?

The manor’s ancient cedars,
and Jacobean staircase, and ornamental lake,
I miss them, maybe as much as Mary Reade herself

My soul longs for that ceiling draped in white,
Decorated with the elements,
seemingly eternal through the ages

My heart beats for those floorboards,
As thick as the blood coursing throughout me –
Thumping in response to my steps upon them

My mind craves the knowledge of this house,
The people that walked through those doorways –
How did they walk, how did they talk, did they also gawk at this house?

This house is “in the works”
And from newfound thoughts
So am I

 

Boston Manor House Wallpaper Poet for Places

Between me and you

I often dream of Boston,
(Boston Manor house, mind you,)
Often through the eyes of Mary Reade.
Her decorated fireplace, and ancient cedars,
standing strong and tall – despite the passage of time

I imagine her sitting at a table, entertaining
a young man who tells her about the modern world,
being bathed in the intention of those who wish
to tell her tale over a cup of tea, a cup of coffee, an exhibition of sorts –
but that’s between me and you

 

Boston Manor House  Wallpaper Poet for Places
Poet for Places Arnaud reading 'The grotto is here!' at Wanstead Grotto.

Arnaud reads The Grotto is here to young refugees

Poet for Places Arnaud William-Mbaki
Poet for Places Arnaud William Mbaki

We asked Arnaud a few questions...

What are you most looking forward to as Poet for Places?

 

Working with people younger than me and inspiring them. I want to show them that London is more than they think it is, it’s more than just hipster culture. Showing them that there are more options in this global world right now, there's a lot we can do and see.

Who are your favourite poets?

 

They would have to be Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes. Dickinson’s style is more personal, dealing with time and death, whereas Hughes’ poetry was more expressive - something that needs to be performed, something that is asking to be performed. I want to take those styles and mix them together in my own work.

 

Has growing up speaking different languages affected your writing?

 

English was one of my priorities as a kid because I read a lot, a LOT! I started to forget French and trying to express myself in English became one of my main priorities. Conversationally I was a bit too academic so I had to learn different ways to express myself without being too tight.

What has been a significant place for you so far?

 

My favourite site is still Northumberland House Arch. That was where I got introduced to everyone and found out how London's history is overlooked. The journeys that stemmed from that started it all. 

 

Unforgotten Pump

Today is a white day.
Your legend came crashing in like a riptide
Buried by centuries of history, like treasure in a desert
Boatloads of arrogance left you stained black near Whitechapel
Shades of grey flooded your pipes,
Left you unforgiven.

Today is a white day.
Your stony exterior gleams white and pure
That lamp you wore, has returned anew
You, ancient and humble, chartered through history
You’ve began to shine again, you’ve been remembered

And with your remembrance,
I’ll drink – A toast to you!

These white days are for you,
the Pump of Death is born again!
Welcome to your new lease of life!

 

Aldgate Pump City of London, Poet for Places

The Grotto

The lake’s ripples still roll in where, as masked figures
We dared these waves and slow tides
that fell against the serpentine edge, highs
and lows of Neptune’s musical spirit, to build our first love
pieces of baroque fill our ears and I out go gloved
hands of desire, my lady did you wish to entwine our forms together?

We strode longingly into the crowd, oblique to the passion on that stage
identified with our blind will to enjoy this evening, to pursue the night

As when we danced between decorated walls
basking in jubilation and endless sensations of
sweet, sweet, symphonies cast out by Apollo’s men
Till senses beat rampant as if woken from a near eternal slumber
And in ourselves we recognize a face we almost forgot – our own

You see, under this mask, I wear a flushed face
I am embarrassed and ashamed that in this night
I won’t have a chance to prove my manhood
For this moment is innocent and full of life

And yet, if I could come back here again
My love, I’d wait for you on that landing stage,
holding my hand out to you as your boat comes in

In lake and grotto where we found our hearts
under masked visage, open breast and beating chest
In dream and vision of a mosaic floor
Where man and woman proudly stirred about
Within our gusto like Dionysus himself,
And never a falling day will break as pure
As our grave jubilation, immature

 

The Grotto is here!

The Grotto is here!
The Grotto is here!
Where people danced,
And loved sincere!

The Grotto is here!
The Grotto is here!
Where snake-like edge
Doth strike fear!

The Grotto is here!
The Grotto is here!
Where nature is green,
and mirrors crystal clear!

The Grotto is here!
The Grotto is here!
Where theatre lives,
And patron’s revere!

The Grotto is here!
The Grotto is here!
Where King’s blade smote
Watered grot, revealing truth severe!

The Grotto is here!
The Grotto is here!
Where future is held
And dreams kept dear!

Poet for Places

Union

Here stands a chapel with a face that says quarter-past six the same way whether a christening, marriage or murder goes on.

 

A face that doesn’t cry tears at the funerals of the dead or smile as a crowd of picnic-goers walks by.

 

This face is odd, almost alien to this world, a circular face crafted with roman numerals and closed off in a box that hugs this chapel.

 

It’s a face I’ve seen on the walls of bars, a face I know at the end of the hallway, a face that broods in the shadows; it watches booze and eat out the insides of the holy man of the house; it has seen millions of hopes go in one hundred and thirty-two years:

both young and old – all with dreams.

 

A young man carries in his mind the sins of his heart, an older woman walks out with a grief-stricken heart; what makes them the same is that they don’t see the face of the chapel, the same face that works under the jurisdiction of the heavens

– Time was never important to us anyway.

 

One lost soul hoists a bag of sustenance over his shoulder, crosses over to the other walkway. He looks at his wrist for instruction, turning to his phone for further guidance and aid, as the face of the chapel watches his understanding of time fall apart in that split second; it points numbers to people a quarter mile away but even those close and far have their head’s pointing down;

it’s pretty common for a clock to fail.

 

And of course, there are sources of time all around us but the faces that this timeless face watches seem to move in a union,

 

away from the chapel.