Poetry Slabs – Manifesto – January 2016

Street Poetry in West Norwood

1. Our primary aim is to develop a series of poetry and lyric installations – initially on high-design, fully weatherproof tiles – to accelerate the renaissance of West Norwood. We anticipate that most such installations will appear on surfaces that are readily visible to the public. We are drawing part of our inspiration from Simon Armitage's Stanza Stones in the Pennines, the Poems on the Underground project, Southbank Poetry Library director Chris McCabe's 'Clotted Sun' project (part of the 2013 Curious site-specific art trail in West Norwood Cemetery) and the 'Poems on the Wall' project undertaken by the TEGEN-BEELD Foundation in Leiden, Holland, which has produced more than 100 installations over a period of 20 years and has recently expanded its work to include an installation in Paris.

In the course of our research, we have also paid great attention to particularly interesting grassroots projects in the same vein: Will Self's 'Brixton Speaks' installation; the Peckham Peace Wall; the Shardeloes Road installation in Brockley Cross; the Walthamstow Poetry Trails; Lemn Sissay's 'Poems as Landmarks' (eg, 'Rain', on the wall of a takeaway in Manchester); Andrew Motion's poem 'What if …', on a wall at Sheffield Hallam University; Sydenham's Greyhound Wall Competition; and Julia Vogl's 'Plotting Values' project at Bow School in East London, among many others. We have also taken inspiration from the neighbouring Dulwich Outdoor Gallery and local historian and art expert Mireille Galinou's excellent Dulwich Notebook.

We currently anticipate that, thanks to an invitation from the Bzz Garage's Wayne Trevor, the first PoetrySlabs installation will be on display at Norwood Bus Garage. For this installation, we have linked up with local ceramic artist and life-long West Norwood resident Robert Dawson (owner of design firm Aesthetic Sabotage) to discuss design options, costs, and other practical considerations.

We very much hope to have the first installation either in place or well on the way to completion in time for the April 3rd FEAST, which will be a poetry-themed event and will include appearances by the Emergency Poet (Deborah Alma) and poetry readings/'interventions' at the various FEAST venues (Food Fair, Artisans' Market, Fresh 'n' Green, Retro Village and Family Hub).

In terms of networking with local volunteers, local organisations, and the area's political representatives, we have been building relationships with FEAST, Portico Gallery, StreetWorks, Norwood Forum, The Edible Bus Stop, South London Theatre, and Friends of West Norwood Cemetery. The first installation is essentially the result of our connection with FEAST and Portico; the second project, a collaboration with the High Trees Community Development Trust Pop-Up Library, is the result of connecting up with StreetWorks and will, we hope, give us a 'bookend' project at the Tulse Hill end of the road. We have received encouragement from councillors Anna Birley, Max Deckers- Dowber, Fred Cowell, and Jackie Meldrum. We have also generated some interest among local businesspeople, shop owners, schools, community organisations, the library, local bookshops, the Book and Record Bar, Effra Sound, WNBC (West Norwood Broadcasting Company), writers' groups and charities. Also, through a FEAST Film event (where we screened Howl, a film about Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, and followed it with an open-mic session) at the Portico Gallery last November, we began making connections with local poets and poetry supporters with a view to involving them in the project.

2. Capitalising on completion of the first installation (at the Bzz Garage), we plan to go forward with negotiations to create additional installations at various points on Norwood Road between Rothschild Street and the South Circular, possibly including the Tulse Hill Station approach (Twist), the Edible Bus Stop, the space outside the Deerbrook Surgery, the Picture House cinema, the West Norwood Health and Leisure Centre, West Norwood Cemetery and a number of suitable surfaces en route. Each installation will be as site-specific as possible, particularly in terms of collaboration, content, design and public participation and consultation. This part of the project is clearly a longer-term proposition.

Funding and timing will be major considerations, along with publicity and outreach efforts geared to increasing public awareness of, and involvement in, the project.

We hope that local estate agents will agree to participate in publicising the project, and that they will also agree to display some poetry on their premises (eg, in their window displays).

3. We hope that the excitement created by the poetry-themed FEAST, the installation at the Bzz Garage and the publicity drive with the estate agents will enable us to initiate a competition for new and found poetry celebrating persons, places or things in this very special neighbourhood (limit 100 words). The competition will launch at the Poetry FEAST on 3rd April – deadline for submissions will coincide with the 3rd July FEAST; judging will take place over the summer months; winners will be announced at the 4th September FEAST, and the first slabs will be in place ready for the FEAST on 2nd October. We will assemble a panel of judges that includes local writers, readers, teachers and interested members of the public. The competition will be open to anyone who wants to take part and will not be restricted to residents of West Norwood. We propose having the winning poems glazed onto slabs and installed in appropriate locations, effectively creating little poetry trails leading from the Broadway out through the residential areas of West Norwood. There is no reason why these trails might not lead further afield in time.

Financial and Practical Issues:

  • Poster design, printing, distribution, promotion.
  • Website design and maintenance.
  • Design, raw materials, glazing, firing, processing, installation.
  • Health and safety, insurance, regulatory compliance, copyright.
  • Management, Translation & Consultation: travel, equipment, administrative fees, and curatorial costs.
  • Funding for events, guests, talks (local and broadcast), workshops, etc.
  • The project has the potential to renew and reinvent itself for as long as people want it to.

PoetrySlabs – local, not parochial