This is the House the Word Built
New poetry commissions celebrate National Centre for Writing

The following poems were commissioned to celebrate the ceremonial breaking ground of the National Centre for Writing at Dragon Hall.

‘This is the House the Word Built’ is a poem by writer, translator and WCN Board Member George Szirtes. In response to this, WCN Young Ambassador and Hellesdon High School student Ruby Pinner has written ‘New Era’ in the Golden Shovel form; the last word of each line is, in order, taken from a line in George’s poem.

This is the House the Word Built

George Szirtes

This is the house the word built.

And the word was with God and was God
and the word was the house where the priest was,
where the friars, the abbey, the earth and the river,
the town and the sea and the sky was –
where the river reflected the town and the sky
and the house the word built.

This is the rich man who built his house where the word was,
his hall-house, his passage, his arch and his doorway,
his windows, his attic, his fireplace and screen-wall,
all in the house the word built.

This is the house the word built.

This is the smokehouse, the fish, the wherry and staithe
behind the house the word built,
the staithe that was built on sea and sky and river and music
in the town with the house the word built.

This is the trading hall, this the undercroft,
   these are the dragons, the witches, the roofbeams,
  the house of the treasurer, the property of the businessman
the house of the mayor and mayor again
that was built with the money and fabric
the word built.

This is the house the word built.

And this is the property – the valuable rentland the trade-hall became
when the trader – the mayor – the businessman died
and sold it for the sake of his soul that he might –
not be bound too long in purgatory
in the house the word built.

And this is the slow descent into poverty – into multiplication –
into tenements and foul yards – into cottage and labour –
into industry and intimacy – into river and sky –
into shoes into dresses into vests into brickstacks –
into one-hundred-and-sixty-five adults and children
in the grounds of the house the word built.

This is the house the word built.

And here’s the first pub, The Three Merry Wherrymen – and here The Old Barge –
with its boozers and braggers, its buxom and ballocky, its bread and its bacon,
like all the great barges or ships of dead fools whom God the great word
sent on their way into broad bucking waves –
of the night with the scurvy, the syphilis, the TB, the ague
all brewed in the house the word built.

Here’s Agnes Palmer aged ten in mid-century, still here at eighty in 1911
and here’s her dead father, and brothers: William, Samuel, Ellis, Edmund & John,
and here are the rags for rag-pickers, and here are the women waiting in doorways
in the house the word built.

This is the house the word built.

And here are the poor – stumbling dead-drunk down the alley –
here’s crowds for the football, shopkeepers, bulldozers, slumclearers, developers,
the Old Barge still floating – down the river of the word, into Dragon Hall –
the city all changes, surviving in squares and streets
and houses the word built.

And this is the art that we live in and walk on and breathe in and pass through,
these are the doors of the word, and the words that pass through them,
this is our barge and our wherry and staithe and the words that we owe –
to those who first spoke them, since that is what art is,
the speaking of the house, the listening of the house –
to the voice of the house that’s the voice of the river,
the sky, the sea, the music, the town –
of the house that we live in,
the house the word built.

This is the house the word built.

New Era

Ruby Pinner

I do not know another place quite like this.
Where so many footprints have been planted, is
There an untouched spot left? Year after year this place takes the
Stage again: a new costume, a new role, a new face, trading
Old walks and ways for new and still this hall
Is ink-dripping with magic and spells. This
History is forever and the
Old world will always find its way home, crawling out from the ancient undercroft.

I do not know walls that have seen the world as these,
Rubbed shoulders with the rich and poor, are
They ready to welcome a new era? Will the
Doors open up and let the young ones fly on the backs of the dragons
That sleep here? The
Light, I’m sure, will shine through but still leave the witches
In peace and let the newborns sing along with the
Symphony of fluttering page after page, the roofbeams
A ribcage armouring the pounding heart, with the
Words of every continent so at home in this house.

I know not what the future holds, of
What mysteries lie beneath the
Ground we break, what treasure
Rests in wait. But it will be the property
Of every age, of
Every footprint from the
Writer, the student, the artist, the teacher, the architect, the businessman.

There is no other place like this.
This is
A pocket stuffed with some of the
Greatest stories ever told, trinkets of time handed down year after year after year, a house
For every thought, every sentence, every language, every poem, play and song. The
Soil is rich with memories that grow with every word,
Ready for the next life to be built.

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