It took me a while to parse the poetry of the urban landscape. As a devoted scholar of the free verse of a frost-tipped field, the assonance of the stream and the wind, and the disintegrating dialect of ripe-smelling woods, I initially found myself a dull-eyed, pale-cheeked, bruised-souled colonial castaway in the brutalist thickets of the concrete jungle.
It was that pallid, pewter slice of London, the Southbank, which slowly showed me the light. Long before I lived in the city, it was the bit I knew best, through those three wise men the National, the Tate Modern and the Globe, who alternately saluted, slouched and squatted by the dirt-dark river and bewitched my country soul with their rich wares. In time, I came to appreciate its rawer delights.
Amongst the official bards of the bank – Hirst and Shakespeare and Hare – I learnt to love the twin beat ballads of graffiti and parkour. In that cold, clattering crevice underneath Queen Elizabeth Hall – tipped for closure a couple of years ago but still going strong – the pale-faced, scar-kneed Keatses of their day write their odes to melancholy in ollies and tags and sauts de chats, and I can watch them for hours. Well, minutes in that wind scudding off the Thames, but it feels like hours.
I instinctively love these virile, visceral, often gloriously abstract arts, but I’ve recently come to acknowledge the shallowness of my appreciation, especially with graffiti. Last week’s Ditto Campfire, a monthly creative pow-wow, featured Agents of Change, a select global collective of graffiti artists who take on big transformational projects within communities. As legendary Brummie paint veteran Juice 126 railed that grafitti is the only major modern art movement to be shunned by the Tate, and Timid (who looked, frankly, like accountant in mufti) cited his influences from fluxus to Man Ray, I could feel my preconceptions tiptoe away.
And then they showed us this, their Ghost Village project.
Oxford should grant the Agents their next poetry professorship, so they could really show those academic kids what it is to turn the relationship between man and nature into a keening, ass-kicking love song.