Rotunda #4: Mighty Heart

Today I’m taking a bit of a step back and reflecting on the weird position I’m in up here, with this grand view of the city and as Laureate more generally. I feel a pressure which I’m sure is mostly only self-imposed to say something, to summarise things, to offer a holistic view, and that’s very much encouraged by the feeling of standing at the windows of this crazy opulent suite and knowing just how much there is out there to write about. I’m conscious over the week of not having dug deep into any individual stories, of having repeatedly found myself taking some kind of long-view on events, and I wanted to send that up a bit in this poem.

I also wanted to write something formal, since I hadn’t so far – a sonnet inspired by one of my favourite city poems, Wordsworth’s lines ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’, but to give that a kind of ironic modern twist through the tropes of space opera. I’m not satisfied that I’ve got enough of them in, though – I would like to find a way particularly in the last six lines of bringing in more specific references from that field. For me the ‘facade’ line isn’t quite working, so that might be the place to look at first: I wanted more of a sense of the flickering consoles and gaudy uniforms, to send up the conceit a bit more. The eight line feels quite cluttered to me, but I did want there to be a certain density and a grand-ness appropriate to the voice, so if it’s a little silly I might be able to get away with it in character. Or not!

Without wanting to get too much into ‘the people look like ants from here’ territory, I was struck by seeing the Specsavers sign on New Street from the window and thinking about the sheer variety of human activity that must be going on down there. In the two days left, I want to try to write more on the level of the eye-test rather than the widescreen panorama. But I’d welcome your suggestions for any particular Birmingham-based story you’d like me to think about for that.

Mighty Heart

Like some flash captain on a viewing deck,
I’m meant to make the sights I see cohere:
bring distant order to the chaos here,
rebuke young corporals who interject —
lecture on these Gold cranes that spear above
satellite dishes, mossy cooling ducts;
long roads that whip away, as if they sucked
clean into ergonomics ruined love
The second officer sees it first: I can’t
support myself and also this façade.
The jigsaw won’t line up the way I want:
a signal box, an ambulance, chain bars,
opticians’ instruments… The lieutenant
hands me a cool drink, shepherds me inside.


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