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The Scavengers of London Tom Watts

The Red Ceilings Press

MMXI [rcp 23]

The Scavengers of London Tom Watts

The Scavengers of London (& the intervention of Flora & Fauna) Introduction. - “Somebody wants pigeon pie.� I. from Hertford

dock of the

the reservoirs

the tarmac melted

in the north quarried quantities of sea urchins other small outcrops hand black-headed gull of the lower Thames Valley what is the sense of stopping? serve the canals & the intervention of flora & fauna men of stone humps, thick beds of fossils settle on the soil by wolves, wild boars & tigers (fig.1) the habitat

of wood-pigeon

- further triumphs & infamies.

II. to the rats

a glacial gravel

an ecological

covered with mosses.

& primeval

& cockroaches when the Romans left Thames & Lea valley fouled with sewage depositing its principal lungs & the Saxons adaptation began niche & smoky wading birds the habitat of Gods like the rook St. Pauls the central London reaches lost to the fish of Middlesex & Kent Thames marshes; the scavengers with time-elapsed deposition (fig.2) today London sprawls

in strips

III. billions

in the south

the vegetation

the waterworks

the creeping willow,

of hard minutes between heathland & cathedral is gone to Reigate a vigilant cultivation of sabre-toothed roses the Himalayas console them in pits of extinct large lumps of chalk on the Hampstead & Highgate heights the great water-pipe invasion of Romans raven & kite; gull of flies, algae the moor-grass, consolidated into whale-backed over spilled, almost continuous (fig.3) wild animals in London

IV. bracing

after adapting

Woodland along

the water-crowfoot

intractability & aching backs & railways carry the trade of greenery an indoor existence the Woolwich & Reading beds inside St. Pauls. the ship of warehouses a brick of fruit at the fringe twin hillocks of the Walbrook rivulet have established themselves of smooth, flat undulations influence the landscape the balance of nature trapped (fig.4) near the Leg Of Mutton Bank & coal�,

like the imported


man has gone

Part One. After Londinium; After London. - “Just as ready to dine off man as off deer.� V. terraces | of gravel on the | Great North Road leaving tarry deposits & Saxon dividing lines on modern London. warmth-loving animals along Tottenham Court Road & rapidly colonised inky Trafalgar Square of unbroken habitats. The fauna of London | a tribe of skulls 60 miles southward the spread of London, the whole areas are completely that lasted for | a thousand years lay below the present day now fishponds fill, sterilizing the district (fig.5) & groaning altitude as habitat for aquatic birds

VI. a gradual spread of London the north bank of the Thames great white gashes to the sky of a causeway 64 feet thick to East Finchley

the appearance


polecats, martens, owls & hawks barren houses & tarmac at the present balance & jackdaw. the port of London left to Slough in the west man’s tide of bricks the tongue of boulder clay slipped flowed east to join the valley of mastodon

VII. nature creeps . the present border humans died everyday . a diet of flesh & flint . chemically-deposited ooze . & long-term climatic . . . (man was hunted on Wimbledon Common Lewisham to Thames beaches) boundaries fixed . for trivial reasons London filled out . tongues of county, borough & enclave . . . (fig.6) suburban gardeners driven to & from Tilbury in the east - to dominate

them all

VIII. huge quantities replaced by were of the type (fig.7) the top of (fig.8) weapons and shelter him a brutish shuffling gait & sinister -“we’re flat” boggy Charing


-“a relatively feeble species” or Grays -“these two great


- ape-like features & ceremonies for burying Stoke Newington perhaps within snow-covered stone’s throw plants of marshy habitat were found in 1857 (fig.9) the dwarf-birch nesting-holes in soft sands

Part Two The Valley Of Mastodon - “man is gone, gone is man” IX. in the latter place

the bones of raven

a favoured scavenger

sounding name of Augusta which to build domestic fowl the two low hills in it’s dense tangled


build the last London Bridge (“as weeds”) (dogs, cattle & sheep) live in saline conditions red & roe deer rich food-growing hinterland kind island marsh or lagoon Thames-side sods / some distance downstream common cornfield weed penny-cress | set foot the elephants Besant (1892) Caeser (1st cent. B.C.), Gomme (1914),

Home (1926),

Cassius Dio (1st-2nd cent. A.D.), Loftie (1883)

X. the cockney-born monk William Fitzstephen of Canterbury, “amongst the noble and celebrated cities of the world…” the palatine tower . a fortress . with the blood of beasts Ludgate | Newgate | Aldergate | Bishopsgate | Tower postern brick-built sacked the energy of fireproof London whose clack close by lies

& bastions the gravelly coverts

the “mid glistening pebbles gliding” the grasses clustered up

at the bridgeheads

Part Three The Wen Begins To Swell - “The monster called… ‘the metropolis of the empire’?” William Cobbett, Rural Rides, 1821 XI. the city and suburbs of London repeated but completely unavailing pools lay stagnant, continuous tongues flood of buildings. London’s many little streams & flatlands after the conquest of Waterloo the metropolis sacrificed engulfed by fruit & vegetables the marshiness of much woodcock & snipe five fields till the middle decaying stalks of the flowering rush by the osier pond. A common bird along a small hillock instead of through a sewer Plate VII. Male & female cockroaches with egg-sac, spiders’ webs, a cedar in Highgate cemetery.

XII. frequenting wine cellars and flour mills cimex lectularius, the bed-bug, flouting the rights of white-keeled snails & woolly apple burr a Nero fiddling under the hedges of Mortlake hares and foxes were minor game, Lord Mayors extinct in the forest but alive in Lombard street the old Conduit-Head, sitting up at the table fallow dear were in low water, new English kings the stag took refuge in kitchens, hunting ducks with spaniels, the marshy pools overwhelming the Wet Docks below London Bridge brackish encrusted with muscles by the gasworks green and limpid piles of turbot, octogenarian Thames celebrated with eels and fifty odd years of fish a pastoral consideration adorned with transformation jack, perch, chub, gudgeon and steam navigation catamounts or cat-a-mounts, a nadir of one elephant a tulip-tree from Virginia, a grizzly bear and some birds reaching a zenith of eleven lions, four cormorants and two owls the scavengers of London were victorious.

XIII. The empty house filled briefly by the nauseating squeak of a blackbird’s window-scraping beak collapsed.

About the poems During a rummage among the tables at the book market under Waterloo Bridge on the South Bank, I found a large, green hardback called London’s Natural History by R. S. R. Fitter - a renowned British naturalist who was also the director of the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau. It is an old, weighty book filled with yellowing pages and a smattering of retro-coloured photographs of odd-looking toads or beds full of cabbages destroyed by brutal caterpillar attacks. Published in 1946, the book is oblivious to the after effects of the war such is Fitter’s obvious obsession with tracking the way London’s nature has changed and been changed by the cities growth. To Fitter it is as if the war was an irrelevance. Nature plows on. I wanted to write a long cento poem dealing with London and the environment, a poem about nature’s ability to just get on with it, everything doing what it must. The book became the source material for my work. All the lines from the Scavenger’s Of London are taken cut and paste style from Fitter’s remarkable book, but instead of describing nature alongside man I imagined nature reclaiming London after man’s extinction. After a period of chaos man is gone and the plants and animals are creeping back onto the streets.

Tom Watts Tom Watts, 33, lives and works in southeast London. His poetry has been published in the magazines Equilibrium, Remark, Plus-Que-Parfait, Streetcake, and Department. He has published a dictionary of poetic forms for zimZalla. His work is also included in the anthology Eighteens, published by The Knives Forks and Spoons Press. A chapbook, The Fruit Journal, is forthcoming on The Arthur Shilling Press. Away from poetry, he writes reviews for Rabbit Hole Urban Music, and his short story ‘Wasps’ was long-listed for the 2010 Fish Short Story Prize. Find him online by putting ‘Feeding The Bear Tom Watts’ into your search engine. He is currently grappling with his first novel. So far the novel is winning.

Thunnerplump And so, we say, friendship ends here in a tidal column of cloud that crumples the sky. Today has the saddest eyes, a tick of rain before the thunder swallows us into a house roomed by chance. Raw edges of what might have been scrape my metal fillings. Magpies people the light like an old movie devoid of sound but for a theatrical pianist. We close the book on the last brick of the story as dark paint swathes old weathered wood.

The Red Ceilings Press

MMXI [rcp 23]

The Scavengers of London  

by Tom Watts

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