a sightseer’s guide to spike island

sightseeingguideSpike Island is a strange island.

Most visitors might not even notice they have stepped off the mainland.  The long slip of land is pinned in place with swing bridges, flyovers and locks which keep the island anchored between two ribbons of water: one is the gleaming harbourside, the other is the gluey mud of the New Cut.

These bridges feel like quick stitches, built over ferry crossings and train lines, at points crossing over each other so that it’s only until you revisit the island on Google Maps that you draw out its shape.

In preparation for Spike Open Weekend I’m making sightseeing poems, in the same format as my viewfinder poems for Cushendall, to guide visitors around the lost island in the middle of their city.

These plastic sightseeing guides come with coordinates that can be punched into Google to direct the reader to the exact bridge.* Five points of contact – Gaol Ferry Bridge, Vauxhall Bridge, the Old Railway Bridge, Brunel Way Footbridge and Prince Street Bridge – take you on a perimeter walk around the Island, or catch you as you alight onto the land.

sightseeing bunch

*(What is this?  Some sort of lo-tech app?  More tactile?  Did you just say techtile?  Is it, as someone just asked, a keyring?  Are those little screens?  No?)

As with my poems in Cushendall, the poems also come with viewfinders – hand cut, hand sized.  And inexcusably small text.  But, you know, I want us to look closely.  Or maybe I don’t want you to look at all.  That’s something for me to talk sternly with myself about.  Meanwhile, here’s the poem for Vauxhall Bridge over the Cut and that green, sour mud that appears at low tide.

sightseeing vauxhall bridge

The poems are printed onto plastic which I shrink in my studio at Spike Island, the gallery at the centre of the Island itself.  I’m using a slightly different, less translucent plastic than I used in Northern Ireland and with new materials come new disasters.  There were a few sad moments this morning spent trying to rescue the front cover (and map, shown above) which melted completely.meltingThere’s something I like about this folded up map.  The little ruptures just where the harbour opens out.  Still, hey – I should aim for some of my tiny poems to be, at the very least, legible.  So I’ll start again and set the right temperatures and with the right words and the right luck, by the time Spike Island opens its doors to visitors, artists and islanders next Friday, I should have my completed, complete Sightseer’s Guides to Spike Island available for you to take away (over any bridge of your choosing).

  1. Fabulous idea! Great way to capture its character for visitors old and new.

  2. shgregg said:

    Fascinating! I’ll have to alert my students on our English MA at Bath Spa University (MA Literature, Landscape and Environment).

    • hcc said:

      Thanks Stephen! Over the summer, I’ll be performing brief tours of Spike Island with the sightseer’s guides so if the project is of interest your students are more than welcome to come along – or just get in touch for a chat anytime. Looks like a great MA!

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