Flaneur: Day 3

Poetry, Uncategorized

FLANEUR is a little project I’ve made for the BBC’s Contains Strong Language: a randomly-generated writing-exploration game that you can take part in. Each day of the festival I’ll be taking a randomised wander around Hull and posting a little poem about it. Head to Mixital to get your own instructions for a surprise, write a response, and share it with us. I’ll be reading and chatting about the responses on BBC social media channels each afternoon.

2017-09-30 10.33.11

A piece of blue industrial plant — a cherry picker — stands outside a modern redbrick building. In its plate glass window, a brownstone church is reflected.


Shuttered redbrick sports a lush          burst of weeds like spring pubes,
thick and bolshie — daddy, shove          your hand in says the winking
closed circuit camera, the razorwire          black as best silk sheets.

          …harling split to old stone     poly rags    yellow squirts
          wonky corrugated topper    nettle bush     hunks of river mud…

“Post,” they call this, post         -industrial, -ironic worn iron signs, as though
it were not live with pigeons           purring their war. The mill dock shrugs,
takes wild new bubbling paint,          gnashes its gums and grinds joy.

hull bridge

The site described in the poem: a semi-derelict mill and grain store, and an old cantilever bridge across the Humber.

My Instructions

1. Meander away from the sun for a while.
2. Roll backwards for thirteen seconds.
3. Go northwest for five minutes.
4. Look.
5. Take the third right.
6. Watch.
7. Wait.
8. Roll towards the largest building nearby for a little while.
9. Look.
10. Stop, find a comfortable spot, and write a poem about where you’ve been.
11. Head back.


A map showing a short and wonky walk through central Hull.

Wander Notes

A short one today, as I was showing the BBC’s Vanessa Scott around FLANEUR — but even the short instructions gave us a few pleasant surprises. Walking with someone else slowed me down and made me look more closely for interesting things. We got lost in the back alleys of the shopping centres, possibly (accidentally!) setting off a burglar alarm (I swear we just walked into a car park), ambled into and out of a gorgeous old theatre mews, found ourselves in a redbrick industrial estate, and ended up next to a gigantic grain store and old mill building, Maizecor. I’m finding that things always get most interesting once we’ve crossed the A-roads that ring Hull city centre, but even the centre has a strange and quite lovely jumble of architecture: Victorian and Edwardian grandeur, redbrick industry, 60s brutalism, 90s shopping streets and contemporary culture-led plate glass architecture all compete for space.

Poem Notes

I’m wary of artists’ fetishisation of post-industrial architecture and dereliction — there’s something patronising about it, something that fails to understand what the loss of city centre industry means. These buildings can be scary and sad, but I love them. And I want them to bite back. I wanted to ask this building how it was feeling in the world, and the answer seemed to be: rude and dangerous and old and sexy. I’m happiest with the first three lines, and maybe the poem should be cut to just that — it gets looser as the poem goes on, and I don’t need to explain as much as I do. But I loved meeting this building so much that I had to keep writing down the words.