It’s National Poetry Day!

Today is National Poetry Day and the theme this year is freedom. Ted Booth, the just-stepping-down writer in residence at the library has written the following poem to bring some poetry to our West Hampstead lives.

You may be lucky enough to be handed a copy as you cross Fortune Green or pass the library (they are handing out 1,000 copies)! If not, here it is. First, as written (the form is important) but in case that is too small to read on your phone, additionally below that fully written out.

West Hampstead, enjoy National Poetry Day.

Carpe Diem

The boys have been led
into a corridor,
long walls hung with photos.
Alumni, class after class,
year after year.
So what have they all
got in common,
asks the teacher.
Rich, famous, successful,
hazard the boys.
No, says the teacher,
they are all dead.
So this is the lesson boys,

carpe diem (1)

Carpe diem, an exhortation
given great poignancy
by the fate
of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Held in an Iranian jail,
she and her fellow prisoners
have written down
their hopes and fantasies
for the first, longed for
day of freedom.
Their notelets hang beribboned
from a tree on Fortune Green. (2)
They dream of tomorrow
to keep the energy for today.

For us the fortunate ones
who are not incarcerated,
nor staring at a ceiling
from a hospital bed,
nor staring across
a care home lounge,
tomorrow is our next,
first day of freedom,
to choose our coffee,
shut the front door
and cross the green
and go to our chosen work,
which is not, dear Phillip (3)
a toad which
squats upon our back.

In the evening
we will return
to re-cross the Green
and open the front door,
having seized another day
of freedom.

Ted Booth

(1) Robin Williams – Dead Poets Society


(3) Phillip Larkin -‘ Toads’

The poem refers to Nazanin Ratcliffe, the West Hampstead wife and mother who is not able to enjoy her freedom. Inspired by the poem her husband Richard in front of the Iranian Embassy will be reading it, along with other poems written on the theme by Nazanin and her fellow prisoners.

The bard of Fortune Green, Ted Booth, is former artist in residence of the Friends of Fortune Green and  just stepping down as writer in residence of Friends of West Hampstead Library. A friend indeed. Thank you, Ted.

An Ode to poetry evenings in West Hampstead

Just as the camp monthly quiz night in the Sherriff Centre, which caters to the 20-somethings, was getting started, the Friends of West Hampstead Library were kicking off their ‘evening of Hampstead poetry’, which seemed to appeal to a more mature audience. I’d been to the last quiz (and really enjoyed it), so it seemed time for some poetry.

The evening was organised by the FoWHL and Ted Booth, who is writer in residence at the Library. He was joined for the readings by local councillor and former actress, Flick Rea. Ted is a long-standing West Hampstead resident and a generous, gentle guy. And quite a good poet to boot, so it was no surprise that there was full house for the evening.

Flick channelling Edith Sitwell

Flick Rea channelling Edith Sitwell

Ted structured the evening as a programme of a dozen or so loosely linked poems, all by poets from Hampstead and its surrounds. If the poets were local, the poems ranged far and wide. A Year in London by Tobias Hill (formerly of Minster Road) took us on a journey down the Kilburn High Road, while Coming Back by Al Alvarez, and Autumn in Toas by DH Lawrence took us all the way to New Mexico.

We returned close to home with two poems of the same name, Parliament Hill Fields, by totally different poets: Sylvia Plath and John Betjeman. Ted said it would take a consummate actor to do both of them justice, but fortunately we had Flick on hand – and even with a nasty cough – she performed with gusto.

Earlier on she had read Portrait of A Barmaid, by Edith Sitwell, which Ted felt was surreal, but Flick just weird! Also in the programme were two works by Owen Sheers, a welsh poet who, like Tobias Hill is both a poet and author. The first, Mametz Wood, takes us back exactly 100 years to the battle of the Somme. The second , Coming Home, is about the awkardness of returning to the childhood home as an adult. Good stuff, and someone new to me.

The short evening ended with The Mission Jazz Band, written by Ted himself and recited by him and Flick. It was the lightest poem of the evening and brought back memories of warm summer afternoons in Golders Hill Park. Ted left us with some questions to ponder, what did we think of the evening? What did we think of the poems? I’m glad I went; it was a pleasant evening, it’s good to try something different and don’t we all, young or old, need a bit more poetry in our lives?

T.S.Eliot’s “gloomy” West Hampstead home

T.S. Eliot – arguably the greatest poet of the 20th century – lived for two years in Compayne Gardens.

Local actor and writer Edward Petherbridge has put together a short film, While the Music Lasts, about Eliot’s time in West Hampstead, which is well worth six minutes of your time.

In 1915, Eliot married Vivienne Haigh-Wood in Hampstead Registry office and the couple moved in with Vivienne’s parents in Compayne Gardens. “A house Eliot found rather gloomy, with long dark corridors”.

It was during this time that The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was published, although Eliot had written it a few years earlier and – the video claims – the seeds of The Waste Land were sown during his time in West Hampstead.

Edward Petherbridge’s original article is here.