The Smithfield poems – extracts
The importance of place, the history of place is a recurring theme within my writing – perhaps I am a geographer at heart. I suppose I must have been influenced by my studies – my first degree was in Development Studies/Human Geography with a minor in Art History. Not such an odd combination when you see the world as layers of polity, economy and society interwoven into one great global rug… Rather like the gathering of St Bartholomew’s Fair that saw merchants from all over the country and Europe coming together with the rich and poor of London and the environs…
‘I sniff as I slide my thumbs down,
Slipping accidentally into the Court of Pie Powders,
allowing one or two cutpurses to escape the law’s clutches.
I barely miss actors, ‘most knockem off stage, mid-Jonson flow.
Theatres must’ve closed in town, plays moved north of the river for festivities.
And there’s Irish dwarves and Harry’s Raree show.
Pigs roasting galore, the spits’ heat feeding ten thousand fetid Londoners.
It stinks of piss and puke and the fulfilled excitement of the Fair at post-Restoration peak.
For me to stand in one spot with the knowledge of what has gone on before, why it happened there particularly, how people and events have shaped the place, how the place has shaped events and people – that for me is exciting. And none more so in London. So when I got the opportunity to research the area around Smithfield market for a series of poems I was pretty happy..
‘Cattle used to graze, by joustings and tournaments, when it was Smoothfield.
After they been used to grazing there together with the horse fairs.
Before it became Smythe Fyeld where they and their calves were sold.
Before the market was moved north to Copenhagen Fields.’
A history of meat
What always strikes me is the recurrance of human failings and how much of the past is relevant to the present. While researching the history of Smithfield one cannot help but dwell on the number of people murdered there in the name of religion. It seemed pertinent to our times with rise of jihad. At the same time neither can one help not be enthralled by the beautiful churches and be humbled by the hospital founded by a religious order – the other side of the religion coin; to create beauty, ease suffering and offer peace.
‘Rahere’s vow still stands, guided, built by flailed martyr’s hand,
in the year of our Lord, 1122, on old tournament land
Twelve monks, 2 sisters, versed in herbal cure, palliative care,
quietly potioned the sick, nursed the frail-fading, dying there.’
Extracts from The Smithfield poems, 2006. Unpublished. Copyright Bridget Atkinson.