Last year, I worked on my first proper residency, as a guest of Essex County Council. The brief? To work with various community groups in Jaywick on the Essex coast (officially Britain’s most deprived region) to create a poem to be permanently installed round the base of their Martello Tower. I kept a separate blog about the experience here http://poetinthetower.wordpress.com/, but now the project is complete: the main poem has been cast in concrete set in a ring round the tower. I wrote two more poems with groups in Jaywick – one was based on the favourite flowers of the allotment society, and one was a shaped collection of the short and long term plans of visitors to Clacton Airshow, the edges of which could be seen from Jaywick beach. The flower one didn’t quite work, but I was pleased with the Red Arrows poem which featured both cheese rolls and chihuahuas.
Here’s the main poem. It’s installed to be read clockwise from the entrance to the tower, all the way round and back to the entrance, and to read it, you have to walk it. The stanza lengths (1 line, 2 lines, 3 lines, 2 lines, 1 line which WordPress won’t let me reproduce, grr) correspond to the stepped design of the reclaimed timber pathway that circles the tower – the tower stands in concentric rings of wooden walkway, gravel, concrete poem and wildflowers, like ripples. In between the words are stamped the regimental badges of the soldiers who were garrisoned in the tower in the early 1800s. Jaywick is a place buffeted by environmental and social forces, so I made something that means as you walk a clockwise circle to read the poem, you perform some sort of spell of enclosure and protection.
Take a turn about the tower.
Follow in the bootsteps of the soldiers who came here
to guard the sea, to keep the coast clear.
Through summer’s heat and winter’s gales
soldiers, staunch as brick-built walls,
watched the horizon, watched out for sails.
A circle protects what’s yours to defend:
to walk this path is to stand your ground.
Follow the soldiers, follow them round.