Poetry in motion
Andrew Taylor, resident poet at the Liverpool Architecture & Design Trust, has the luxurious remit of walking round the city and writing about his discoveries
Poet Andrew Taylor has something of the flâneur about him, the gentleman stroller who observes and records the flow and rhythm of city life. While Paris is the city most associated with 'flânerie', a kind of intellectual idling, through literary figures such as Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin and more recently Edmund White, Taylor is resident poet at Liverpool Architecture & Design Trust (LADT), set up four years ago to promote quality and raise awareness of architecture and urban design in the city.
Taylor's remit is loose and luxurious: to explore Liverpool and see where his feet and his poetic gift take him.His walks are written up on the LADT website in prose; his poems are less written to order than inspired by the psychogeography of the city, a mix of history and heritage, personal memory and experience.He also works in the wider community, holding poetry readings and workshops to further the trust's aims.
'The notion of the flâneur is outmoded really and by definition self-indulgent, ' Taylor counters. 'They took tortoises for walks on leads, I just have a notebook and a digital camera.' The residency is about integrating arts and architecture but more specifically to nudge Liverpool's inhabitants into a greater appreciation of the city's architecture. 'People are more attuned to their surroundings than ever before, especially in a city like Liverpool, where we are starting to look around at what we have and realising it is quite special. It is also changing rapidly and dramatically, and the residency is a great and quite unique mechanism to evoke this creatively.'
Taylor, 36, says he has always been interested in the poetry of place. He is writing his PhD on the influence of locality in poetry and is fascinated by the ways in which buildings change their mode while the architecture stays the same, how and why new spaces emerge, what has gone before in the space, or why public access is suddenly allowed or denied. 'You can do it by looking at old photographs and public records, or listening to oral history, but I want to get inside, both emotionally and physically, ' he explains. 'I'm not just describing what I see; it runs deeper. I've lived in Liverpool all my life, so it's about memory and exploring the effect of certain locales on experience, from the mundane to the life-changing.'
Place-specific poetry has less of a precedence in Baudelaire, asserts Taylor, than in the vivid free verse of 1950s New York poet Frank O'Hara. 'He wrote 'walking poems', often written on his lunch break, that perfectly place you in the moment of his journey. You get an almost filmic sense of New York, for example in the poem The Day Lady Died, where he is just going about his daily business and only alludes to what is a momentous event for him, the death of Billie Holiday, at the end.' It is a personal and moving response to the death of the singer, but the city of New York cannot be separated from its form or content.
In the same way, hopes Taylor, Liverpool's architecture is more than a backdrop - it gives his work the spontaneity he seeks. 'My walks are actually quite predetermined. I'm told by LADT to go to a certain point and walk back to the city centre, but within that I can go any way I want. I'm usually drawn to the river, it's such an important part of Liverpool's psyche. There's a gateway in the Dock Road wall - 1.4 million people walked through these gates to a new life over the ocean. All of them had a story to tell and Liverpool is full of these signifiers of its past.'
Part of his remit took him to a miniresidency at Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral, where he wrote a series of poems inspired by being in Giles Gilbert Scott's masterpiece.
He describes a spine-tingling moment when he opened an old plan chest in a hushed and dusty flag room high above the soaring sandstone nave. Inside were some of Gilbert Scott's original drawings. 'I don't know why they were still there, but it was incredibly moving. I felt such an affinity with the place.'
Taylor also worked on workshops with the architecture department of Liverpool John Moores University. 'These were workshops designed to help the architects filter through the ideas of the people who were going to use the buildings, in this case a primary school and a play project. I also sat in on an architecture panel of students showing their work at the university.'
He laughs off the notion of becoming Liverpool's laureate. 'The best thing about the residency is that I've created a portfolio of work directly influenced by the built environment that is Liverpool, and had access to some fabulous buildings. I went to the top of the Wellington Column, a monument I've walked past thousands of times. Seeing the city from his bird's-eye perspective encapsulated the almost absurd privilege of being able to do that. I've learned that Liverpool is never to be taken for granted. I suppose any built environment is never to be taken for granted, but Liverpool seems to have rediscovered the boldness that it was built on.'
Turn for Home, Andrew Taylor's collection of poetry inspired by the LADT residency, is to be published by The Brodie Press at £6.99. Visit www. thebrodiepress. co. uk for further details
Scaffold wrapped like a gift half hidden whistles matched from tower concealed visits birds of prey scale cliff like Stick figures clamber slow cautious animation lead warmed tarmac burst glance drawn ever skywards Shadowed temperature drop damp sandstone steps candle lit horizon safe smell comfort golden model cast Flash arc linen aged box circuit walked knees ached stood central hands clasped eyes worn weary