Show the City with its Signs
‘POLITICS MADE SIMPLE
This is an Elephant —> CLIMATE CHANGE | <— This is a Room’
My friend, the Burmese poet ko ko thett, has been living in Norwich for several years. He’s also been taking photographs of Norwich and other cities on his travels, using them as prompts to write poems. I’ve sought his permission to begin with his poem and his photo, taken in a location that’s completely unknown to me and possibly to the internet. Google Reverse Image Search shows only one other instance of this sign, pure and white, untouched by graffiti. I don’t ask ko ko where he took it from.
Politics made simple
by ko ko thett
Not every elephant
in the room must be a bull.
‘Let’s hatch a plot
like an elephant.’
adds insult to
injured tusks and trunks.
Those who tried to
conceal the jumbo
under a goat hide will
chop firewood –
in the blaze of a jungle.
‘Be Excellent to Each Other’
Here’s to the start of an excellent adventure.
‘This is one of my favourite pieces of street art in the City. I use it as my screen saver on my phone, as a reminder. Good luck with your work.’ — Claire Hupton, Secret Norwich Facebook Page
‘Should twenty thousand dragons rise,
I’d fight them all before your eyes!
And now I’ll slay the dragon, my wonders do begin.
A fell and fiery dragon he; but I will clip his wing.’
Make your way to Norwich Castle. As you enter from Castle Meadow, you’ll see a number of modern plaques embedded in the retaining wall of the castle mount. You’ll see it if you squint hard at Google Maps.
I’m pretty sure dragons exist, although you’ll be hard-pressed to find a screenshot of one.
‘Women came to widen the vote on this street.’
In 2019, a guerrilla art project erected alternative blue plaques highlighting women. On 7 Brigg Street, they commemorated a Suffrage shop, placing their own plaque right below an official one honouring Reverend D’Oyley who raised money to widen the street. Google Maps won’t tell me where either plaque is, or if they even still exist. All these disappearing and disappeared histories.
‘A fragment from the Arabian Nights dropped into the heart of the old City’
The Royal Arcade is your next stop, although the sign doesn’t really tell us how Art Nouveau is Arabian. Thank you to Kate and Tiffany, who went on a weekend stroll together and collected some images for me. A fragment of Norwich dropped into the heart of Singapore.
‘PEDESTRIAN and CYCLE ZONE Except for loading 5pm – 10am’
‘This sign, at the top of Exchange St next to the market, has been the cause of much controversy and misunderstanding… (to the point that I’m almost scared to post about it, haha).
The street’s a pedestrian and cycle zone, with loading permitted before 10am or after 4pm, but the county council’s just announced they want to reopen it to traffic as it’s ‘too hard’ to stop errant drivers using it.
It’d be a great place for a walking tour (provided you’re not mown down and then verbally abused for using the street 😅 🙈).’ — Fern Blevins, Secret Norwich Facebook Group
Fern’s photo shows 4 pm – 10 am, a testament to how even municipal signs can shift and change before my eyes.
‘Out of Sorts / Dab Hand / Quoin a Phrase’
Family-run departmental store Jarrolds, right next to this sign, recently put up a number of printing-related phrases on its shopfront. Printing used to mean forever.
‘ANGER IS SAD’S BODY GUARD — PATRONISING PINEAPPLE’
At the Pottergate Underpass, you’ll find yet another ephemeral art gallery, a physical one this time, that changes as the months pass. It’s only through these Youtube videos that the signs can live on, electronic ghosts.
‘Show the sun with a lantern’
You arrive at the last stop, just as I arrive at the last Google Maps screenshot, after an hour of navigating its Street View interface to find a proper image of this building. It’s an old Eastern Electricity Board site upon which artist Rory Macbeth wrote-painted the entirety of Sir Thomas Moore’s novel Utopia. The building was meant to have been demolished soon after the artwork was completed in 2006, but it still stands to this day.
Somewhere on the building, impossible to see from the screenshot, is Moore’s instruction to show the sun with a lantern. Show the city with its signs.
Thanks to Tiffany Atkinson, Kate Griffin, ko ko thett, and everyone who responded to my cry for help on the Secret Norwich Facebook, including Lynn Preston, Jill Wragg, Kate Hickin, John Rixon, Robert Turner, Suzy Brooks, Claire Hupton, and Fern Blevins.
Tse Hao Guang (謝皓光) is the author of The International Left-Hand Calligraphy Association (Tinfish Press, 2023) and Deeds of Light (Math Paper Press, 2015), the latter shortlisted for the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize. He edits or has edited the collaborative e-journal OF ZOOS; UnFree Verse (Ethos Books, 2017), the anthology of Singapore poetry in received and nonce forms; literary food writing anthology Food Republic (Landmark Books, 2020); and the new edition of Windham-Campbell prize-winning poet Wong May’s 1969 debut, A Bad Girl’s Book of Animals (Ethos Books, 2023). He is a 2016 fellow of the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program and the 2018 National Writer-in-Residence at Nanyang Technological University. Poems and essays appear in Poetry, Poem-a-Day, The Yale Review, Poetry Northwest, Entropy and elsewhere. Website
Image (c) Daryl Qilin Yam
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