St. Benedicts Street
A ‘Wandering Words’ commission by award-winning poet Martin Figura, inspired by the colourful St. Benedicts Street.

Discover Norwich of the past, present and future through newly commissioned poems from five brilliant writers with ties to the city. Wandering Words is a literary walk, created to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Norwich becoming England’s first UNESCO City of Literature.

You can download a Wandering Words map here and embark on the walk yourself, or follow along online by listening to the poem and soundscape below. Explore Wandering Words in full here →


St. Benedicts Street

Location two: 58 St Benedicts St, Norwich NR2 4AR

Head over the footbridge and take a left down Grapes Hill, where you’ll reach the bottom of one of the most eclectic streets in the city centre – St Benedicts. Once the epicentre of Norwich’s vibrant textile industry, this charming quarter is now home to a colourful concoction of shops, restaurants, pubs, and bars. There are whispers of history everywhere, from the city’s shortlived tram network to the hidden remains of St. Benedicts Church with its circular Norman tower.

‘St Benedicts Street’ is written and performed by poet and photographer Martin Figura.

 

St. Benedicts Street

Listen to the poem with soundscape

 

Listen to the poem

 

Listen to the soundscape

 

Sound design and production by Michael Guimaraes at Access Creative College.


Read ‘St. Benedicts Street’

Marigold at the crossroads guides us with his yellow
rubber-gloved hand through the long-gone gate.
There’s no toll to pay, no need to leave your soul.

We walk with ghosts along this street. Follow me
past Friar Thomas Tunstall’s head, unrepentant
on its pole and on our right in a garden of weeds

behind a twisted wire fence of danger signs – is
St Benedict in his disembodied tower. Pasts
scuttle down alleyways and lanes like river rats.

Eras are written into the miscellanea of architecture,
the vertebrae of roof tops, the nomenclature of yards.
Kindly gather if you will, outside the Amnesty shop,

inhale the horse-muck reek of Warwick’s army
thundering past to break Robert Kett’s rebel band
on common land. At the end of Three Kings Lane

feel the crush of bodies between Cash Converters
and Cash Maker as we await the ‘Royal Progress
of the Virgin Queen to pass. We’re a cussed common lot

never far from a church or martyrdom here. Down the steps
above his door, St Lawrence in stone on a gridiron ready for fire,
and by him Saint Edmund in his stubborn coat of Viking arrows.

We must stumble back to the street into the smouldering aftermath
of the Luftwaffe’s Baedeker raid, shake our heads with the policeman
and the fire warden, share the disbelief of the cloth-capped men

in a hole where The Crown should be. Please remove your shoes
and socks and step onto the etched paving stone – Stag Inn
Eighteen-Forty-Five to Nineteen-Sixty-Five – hear the jolly late-night

lock-in sings-songs of the dead rise up through your soles. There are
two pubs left of fourteen now, both disguised under smart grey coats
amongst the wine bars and cocktail lounges of new fashions.

Happily people still talk nonsense until chucking out time, then ramble
sentimentally home swinging like lamps. At night, I look up at the windows
to glimpse the lives above the shops, some stripped down to bare wood

and bubble-wrapped against the cold, some lit by chandeliers.
The metal tourist street map tells us – You are here – Norwich
The City of Stories, its arrow points to us at the dead centre

of the three-minute circle that will hold us for hours. And here it says
is the Arts Centre that copious church of countless gigs, some of them mine.
Hold your palms to St Swithin’s flint and feel the pulse – applause, applause,

applause like rain. I look back along thirty years and hardly recognise myself
stood there, like so many, hoping for my life to change. Everything changes
apart from Press To Play’s window display of faded album covers, which is

the same as it ever was – mostly Beatles and Bowie, some Zeppelin, Beach Boys
and The Who. The door next door to The Doors poster, is in fact not a door,
but a portal. Come with me now, we’ll flick through the record racks

of careless youth and tell each other little wild lies and bore
the young vinyl hunters with how it really was and how we hoped
to die before we got old, and how like them we gazed into Cooke’s

window of guitars and imagined ourselves as stars. Hold onto
your hats as numismatist Clive Dennett takes us down centuries
of crowned heads through the loose change of civilisation,

the ringing of cash registers past. His neighbour Last Level Games
will bring us safely back through the perils of Civilisation I and all
its sequels. Of the shop fronts not been bombed or lost to fire

or progress, some have traces of incarnations and are there
to be read, frame by frame like one of Abstract Sprocket’s
time-travelling graphic novels, the push and pull of values

across generations stitched into the one of a kind, upcycled
customised coats of the quest – how heavy the future weighs
in their pockets. There is the ancient and the modern with retro

somewhere in between. Bric-a-brac shop windows are our cabinets
of curiosity, a testament to the persistence of stuff, beyond its purpose
to become part of the story. The signage of Raphael – Jewellery Gifts

may have lost its shine, but inside all kind of brilliance awaits us.
Along here, you may choose to have your truth inked into your skin
or have every last inch of you preened, polished, waxed and massaged,

you can change your hairstyle every few yards. At the time of writing,
mullets are back in fashion– lest we forget the mistakes of our history.
Walkers Stores’ name still gleams from the deep green sea of its tiles

bright as the salon surfaces within. Below the surface we find, tailors,
pottery kilns, barrels of ale, wedding gowns, marble shelves, bacon
on the turn and somewhere in the back, past Thatcher’s biography

in the ‘Horror’ section, near the ‘Unclean Free Zone’ sign sits
Norman Peake: Scientific Anglian, communist, protester, in his chair
with his cat and dust amongst tottering hoards of books.

Buying a book there, was a little like Jenga, with the risk of a world
of knowledge falling down upon your head. Norman wrote his initials
in every book he sold, until the wiring and the cellar stairs gave way,

until a tree grew through the roof. There is still some kind of truth
and independence to be found along this quarter mile of how to adapt
and live side by side – Sinsins Boutique of Love happily squeezed between

Tanya Goddard’s art shop and Slice + Dice Board Game Café and Bar where,
while you eat and drink you can solve a murder, who did what to whom
with what and where, or buy up the city or conquer the world. We can lunch

at tables on the pavement now, like good Europeans and how did we ever
get through a day before coffee was this good. I know I’ve changed,
but so have the times and it is what it is a ‘foodie’ street and as your luck

would have it, time for lunch. I shall leave you to your own devices,
feel free to go to any of the many corners of the earth, just be back
within the hour. You’ll find me at the railings at the Prow of the street
where Westwick and St Benedicts meet, the City of Stories at my feet.


Martin Figura was born in Liverpool and lives in Norwich. His collections include The Little Book of Harm (Firewater Press, 2000), Ahem (Eggbox, 2005) and Whistle (Arrowhead, 2010), which deals with the murder in 1966 of his mother, June, by his father Frank. His collection and show Whistle were shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award and won the 2013 Saboteur Award for Best Spoken Word Show. The Remaining Men, his latest poetry collection, is about those whose lives are too easily dismissed by society and government. Image © Dave Guttridge

 

Michael Guimaraes is a 20 year old student at Access Creative Norwich studying Music Technology at Level 3.

 

 

 


Norfolk & Norwich Festival and National Centre for Writing presentation, programmed by the National Centre for Writing.

A special thank you to our sound production partner Michael Guimaraes at Access Creative College.

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