I live in a house on the banks of the M32 where the River Frome is still visible above ground. The river has at this point made it almost 20 miles from its spring in South Gloucestershire but just where the city of Bristol starts in earnest, the Frome gets packed away into a steel canal under the the motorway flyover and it sloughs off a thick skin of crisp packets and mattresses at the sluice gates in the IKEA carpark. Somewhere under the city, the river loses its mouth.
You can see in John Rocque’s map, above, published in 1750 the way the city was bound between the Frome (I’ve coloured it in blue) and the Avon (green). What was the Frome’s mouth is now cut off from both rivers as the Floating Harbour. Today, a little pipe intercepts the Frome further up at Rupert Street, a busy dual-carriage way but if you stand over the manhole cover here you can here the Frome rushing under your feet. From here, the Frome is carried off and, unseen, dribbles into the New Cut, just under God’s Garden which tells us as much as we need to know about Bristol.
I have just completed two new site-specific poems for these two rivers in – and under – Bristol. The poems were commissioned separately – one by the Festival of Nature for their Poetry Trail, one by Bristol Museums for their permanent collections and to celebrate Bristol’s year as European Green Capital. The poems are for two different rivers – the Avon and the Frome. Considering the strange and slippery relationship these two rivers have with the city and with each other, it is unsurprising that (as chance would have it) both works were launched on the same evening at M Shed on the harbourside last week.
A LONGER WATER
‘A Longer Water’ is a poem for the River Frome which has been installed across twelve windows in the People’s Gallery at M Shed. Taking its cue from the diverted, culverted, inverted routes of the River Frome, the poem can be read according to the reader’s movement, either following two long lines across all twelve windows or weaving through all twenty four lines as if they are couplets. It is also possible to change course halfway through, slipping between the lines across the windows.
This commission was written as a partner poem to ‘Aft’ which was installed in 2015 on a passenger ferry on the Floating Harbour (seen here zooming by) and the two talk to each other across the water.
‘A Longer Water’ will be on display as part of the ‘It Doesn’t Stop Here’ exhibition until September 2016.
FOUR WORDS FOR HERE
‘Four Words for Here’ is the first signpost on the Festival of Nature’s Poetry Trail, installed on a stretch of the Avon passing through St. Philip’s Marsh. It’s a messy and rich site, split between light industry and wild flowers. When I arrived I was pleased to find such a crowd of signpost poems keeping mine company.
From here, signpost poems by Tania Hershman, Carrie Etter, Andrew F. Giles and Jack Thacker take you all the way upstream and back to Bath. You can also listen to recordings here.
‘Feverfew’ is one of my ‘Four Words for Here’ so I was pretty excited to find a little fever bed of feverfew daisies growing in sight of the sign and on the site of the two too small isolation hospitals that were built here in the 1870s:
My signpost poem should be in place over the summer while the river and land around it is being busily rearranged to be ~ARENA ISLAND~, home to Bristol’s twelve-thousand-seater venue for sportsing etc. and a sparkling new bridge.