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Award-winning Roehampton lecturer premieres poem in support of Richmond Park

TS Eliot Award winner and Roehampton lecturer Professor David Harsent premiered a new poem this week, commissioned by the Friends of Richmond Park, at an event introduced by Roehampton Honorary Graduate Sir David Attenborough.

Posted: 18 June 2015

image for news story Award-winning Roehampton lecturer premieres poem in support of Richmond Park

The poem, entitled A Dream of Richmond Park, was written for an event on 17 June to mark the formal re-opening of Poet’s Corner, which is located in the gardens of Pembroke Lodge, in the heart of Richmond Park. The park is one of the largest urban green spaces in Europe, around three times the size of New York’s Central Park and is adjacent to the University’s Whitelands College.

Sir David Attenborough, the renowned naturalist who holds an Honorary Degree from Roehampton, spoke at the event, which also featured readings of other selected poetry and prose about Richmond Park, written over the last 300 years, and included contemporary work. Other speakers at the event were the actors Julian Glover, Anthony Calf, Stella Gonet and Julia Watson.

The event was arranged by the Friends of Richmond Park, who undertake work to protect the park and conserve its rich wildlife. Along with Sir Attenborough, University of Roehampton Chancellor Dame Jacqueline Wilson is a patron of the organisation.

Professor David Harsent is a Professor of Creative Writing in Roehampton’s Department of English & Creative Writing. Ranked in the top 20 English departments in the country according to the Guardian University Guide 2016, the Department provides a range of innovative courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level, taught by world-leading writers including David himself.

The general philosophy of the Friends of Richmond Park is that the park's users should enjoy it, but try to minimise any damage they may cause; to 'tread lightly'. David Harsent’s piece, which he describes as a 'necklace of poems' about the flora and fauna of the park, uses this as the basis for a refrain.

A Dream of Richmond Park

The trees
Pollarded veterans, the amputees, the hollow oaks,
hornbeam and black
poplar, sing gently down the wind; lean in to them

and you'll hear it, centuries old, song of longing,
song of loss, kings come to dust,
crowds of shadows that follow where you walk.

*

Your feet go light on the ground
in your waking dream of the park
as if you were lost in green
as if you could somehow tread but leave no mark.

*

The birds
In flight they are lost to themselves.
A kestrel straddles the wind, a sparrowhawk
goes between trees, goes low to the ground, songbirds

are small machines who have 'songbird' by heart...
A heron stoops to the water, folded and packed
back into itself, heron-as-hieroglyph.

*

Your feet go light on the ground
in your waking dream of the park
as if you were lost in green
as if you could somehow tread but leave no mark.

*

The Butterflies
The gatekeeper is drawn to ragwort, to bracken, to edgelands,
the large skipper is branded
if male, if female untouched, brimstone and green-veined white

go to the bramble-flower, small blue to the creeping thistle, the purple
hairstreak flies spirals... That churn
of wings in the air is a storm at sea, is landslip, is seismic shift.

*

Your feet go light on the ground
in your waking dream of the park
as if you were lost in green
as if you could somehow tread but leave no mark.

*

The deer
Like us they die and replenish, like us they seem
no different from those they replace
unless you get close, unless there's a reason to know.

Like us they go by habit, like us by need. They sculpt
each tree to the browse-line; they shed
their velvet, go head to head, bell to the breaking dawn.

*

Your feet go light on the ground
in your waking dream of the park
as if you were lost in green
as if you could somehow tread but leave no mark.

*

The beetles
So many that they outnumber all else, so many that one in five
of all named creatures is one of these, so many
that their crawling sets up an echo: dor and minotaur,

image of Khepri god of the sunrise,heart-scarab, death-scarab,
cut in bone, in stone,a living brooch
tethered to her breast, soupçon doused in chocolate, doused in honey.

*

Your feet go light on the ground
in your waking dream of the park
as if you were lost in green
as if you could somehow tread but leave no mark.

*

The bats
No good reputation: creatures of the night and hot for blood, they live
on the edge of hunger, hedged-in by light
from the urban badlands, getting through their night-long haul

of three-thousand midges to hold their flying-weight, soprano
pipistrelle, bandit pipistrelle, they come
to your window, they tap the glass, they show their teeth.

*

Your feet go light on the ground
in your waking dream of the park
as if you were lost in green
as if you could somehow tread but leave no mark.

*

The flowers
Think of the risk in names, the way a name
is capture, the way that name and named
must possess each other, how calling a name calls in

its shadow-sign, how name will bypass name to summon up
some hidden meaning: Good Friday Grass,
Tormentil, Hawkbit, Goat's Beard, Lady's Bed Straw.

*

Your feet go light on the ground
in your waking dream of the park
as if you were lost in green
as if you could somehow tread but leave no mark.

*

The Park
Imagine it under rain when everything slips to a blur,
in sunlight or snowlight, imagine
darkness coming in or darkness lifting...imagine your feet

light on the ground as in a waking dream,
and the park now boundless, where you
fail to find yourself, go trackless in trackless green.


David Harsent

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