On Sunday I left Bristol and went to Albion’s capital to visit the dramatist and author of Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe – at the inn in Deptford where he was stabbed in the eye. At least, perambulating St Nicholas’ Church we must have been close at some point. In Marlowe’s time it was all docklands, also brothels, bearpits, theatres and suchlike sin, being across the river from the strictures of Reformation London. Marlowe’s death has, as far as I can tell, always been something of a mystery – which Kit Marlowe did nothing to dispel that afternoon, even though I paid for the curry.
Then we went to Torriano House in Kentish Town across remain-voting London, close by where our leaders (as in Kit’s time) are tearing the country apart in the interests of their own advancement. Among the poems I read there from The Ladies and Gentlemen of the Dead was Dark Albion. It’s on page 71 and imagines an underground version of Blighty most unlike our present tolerant and undivided kingdom. The opening section is below.
The evening was hosted by Hylda Sims, who once was a teaching colleague of ours in a small town in Catalonia. She is published by Hearing Eye Press, as is Bristol’s Pauline Seawards. Hylda has long been a stalwart of the folk music scene too, and on the bill as well was Simon Prager, another such stalwart – an excellent guitarist and a fund of stories and songs from many genres – R&B, blues, skiffle, music hall. He’s learning Yiddish, he told us, and promptly sang in Yiddish about a poor cigarette seller. He did this one too. It’s Hylda in the middle. Together they are part of the City Ramblers Revival
Back in remain-voting formerly slave-trading Bristol, this week’s been all about watering, so that the carrot seedlings don’t burn up. That said we’re having the best year for peas ever. Thank goodness Dark Albion was just a bad dream. If you’re in Bristol too, tomorrow at midday, come to Silver Street Poetry. The featured poet is Lucy English, and there’s an open mic too.
Suppose there was a darker Albion
beneath us, thick as porter, fat as eels
a flag of anthracite blood-crossed and torn
a country where we might be stiffed by deals
that got signed off while we were still asleep
or selling sandwiches for bugger all
making ghost calls from half a mile deep
hauling nets or ploughing sooty fields.
So who might rule in that unpleasant land
or chair the grisly boards who rigged the rules
to push that mouldered Blighty’s tainted brand?
The splendid chaps, no doubt, who always do,
venturers who shipped half-dead flesh for gold
or mined the nation’s sparking crown of coal.