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Poems

Mary Gay Kearns Jun 2018
Streatham's White Garden lies between a walled Old English garden and a small orchard in the Rookery, once the grounds of a large house dating back to 1786, and now an historic Grade II listed public garden. The elegant double borders, backed by trees and climbers and edged with lawn, echo each other down the length of the garden, with white benches marking each end. Still the only white garden in any of London's public parks, the White Garden pre-dates Vita Sackville-West's famous grey, green and white garden at Sissinghurst by at least 30 years.

Local volunteers under the leadership of Kew-trained designer Alison Alexander and project co-ordinator Charlotte Dove (both working for the Friends of Streatham Common, who successfully raised funding for the project from the Heritage Lottery Fund) carried out the recent restoration. The restoration was based on archival research and visits to other historic gardens, and is faithful to the spirit of the Arts and Crafts-inspired Edwardian original. Many of the plants in the new design have been chosen for their historical associations, including shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum), ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), and a white cultivar of the old-fashioned English rose, Rosa spinosissima – all plants that would have been as familiar to the leading lights of the movement, such as William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll, as they were to the Edwardian gardeners who planted up the original garden.

This is a serene place, much loved by visitors. But serenity is not the whole story – determination also plays a role in the history of this garden. Streatham residents fought a public campaign to rescue the Rookery grounds (the house itself was demolished in 1912) from the wave of suburban housebuilding that reached a peak in the years before the First World War. The gardens were laid out by Major Philip Maud of London County Council (LCC), and opened in 1913.

The concerns surrounding cramped urban living conditions that gave rise to the public parks movement in the nineteenth century remain a reality today. Open spaces are a necessary release valve: an escape from the pressures of city life, and proven to have a positive effect on mental and physical health. It is no coincidence that the LCC designs for other public gardens designed in the period (including the Old English garden in nearby Brockwell Park) were also influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement: it was a style ideally suited to the purpose, being itself a reaction to the negative impact of industrialization, and an expression of nostalgia for an idyllic imagined past.

Despite the pressures of the city, horticulture has long been part of this area's heritage, and for much of last century it thrived: amateur and professional gardeners alike participated in fruit and flower shows organised by newly-formed clubs and societies, well-maintained civic parks delighted visitors and residents, allotments flourished, and local nurserymen like John Peed of West Norwood produced lavish catalogues of the latest horticultural discoveries.

As government funding for green spaces has decreased, however, gardens like the Rookery have suffered from reductions in maintenance budgets: as late as the 1970s, seven gardeners were dedicated to the Rookery alone, but today only two contractors are based there. Once again local residents have responded, developing community groups, volunteer-led projects and local fundraising, and working closely with the Lambeth Parks Service. One such community group, the Streatham Common Co-operative (SCCoop), aims to take on the gardens and increase the number of gardeners. Applications for outside funding have been productive: most of the plants for the White Garden restoration were purchased with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association providing a grant for new white roses. But resources are finite, and – in the best tradition of ecological planting – the new plants for the White Garden have been chosen to suit the prevailing conditions, and to flourish with minimal maintenance. Gardens have always thrived on both innovation and tradition, and the restoration of the White Garden at Streatham Rookery is a tribute to those who are prepared to find new ways of looking after treasured open spaces.

Love Mary ***
Information to go with my poem The Rookery
Thank you poets .love Mary
Terry O'Leary Dec 2013
Ill-fated crowd neath foreign cloud: the Silent City braves
against a sudden sullen flood, unleashing lashing waves,
which washes stony structures clean with radiance that laves.

Deserted streets, once dense retreats, spin yarns of yesterday,
with  faded words no longer heard (though having much to say)
since teeming life (at one time, rife), surceased and slipped away.

Within its walls? Whist buildings, tall... Outside the City? Dunes...
They frame a frail forgotten tale,  in carved unwritten runes
with symbols hung like halos strung in lifeless, limp festoons.

The City’s blur? A sepulcher for Christians, Muslims, Jews –
Cathedrals, Temples, vacant now, enshrine their residues,
though churches, mosques and synagogues abide without a bruise.

A church’s Gothic ceilings guard the empty pews below
and, windswept blown above the stones, a maiden’s blue jabot.
The Saints, in crypts, though nondescript, grace halos now aglow.

Stilled chapel chimes! Their clapper rope (that tongue-tied confidante)
won’t writhe to ring the carillons, alone and lean and gaunt –
its flocks of jute, now fallen mute, adorn the holy font.

Stray footsteps swarm  through church no more (apostates that profane) -
their echoes in the nave ring thin, while chalice cups maintain
a taste of brine in altar wine decaying in the rain.


No face will come with jagged tongue to sing a silent psalm
nor paint pale lips with languid quips to pierce the deathly calm,
nor pray for mercy, grace deferred, or beg lethean balm.


Six steeple towers, steel and stone, drab daggers in the sky!
Their hallowed halls no longer call when breezes wander by –
for, filled with dread to wake the dead, they've ceased to sough or sigh.

No cantillation, belfry bells, monastic chants inspire
and Minarets, though standing yet, host neither voice nor crier -
abodes and buildings silhouette a muted spectral choir.

Coiled candle sticks! Their twisted wicks no longer 'lume the cracks
with dying flame in smoky swirl mid pendant pearls of wax,
since deference to innocence dissolved in melting tracks.

Above! The dismal ditch of dusk reveals a velvet streak,
through which the winter’s wicked winds will sometimes weave and sneak,
and faraway a cable sways, a bridge clings hushed and bleak.

Thin shadows shift, like silver shafts, across a cruel moraine
reflecting white a wisp of light in ebon beads of bane
which casts a crooked smile across a faceless window pane.

Wan neon lights glow through the nights, through darkness sleek as slate,
while lanterns (hovered, high above, in silent swinging gait),
haunt ballrooms, bars, bereft bazaars, with no one left to fete.

Death's silhouettes show no regrets, 'twixt twilight’s ashen shrouds,
oblivious she always was to cries in dying crowds –
in foggy neap the spirits creep... a clutch of clammy clouds.


No breath will come  'cross jagged tongue to sing a silent psalm
nor paint pale lips with languid quips to pierce the deathly calm,
nor yet redress the emptiness that shifting shades embalm.



The castle clock, unwound, defrocks! Those peerless speechless spokes
unfurl the blight of reigning Night by spinning off her cloaks,
and flaunt the dun oblivion, her Baroness evokes.

Green trees gone dark, in palace parks, where children paused to play –
now voiceless things on phantom swings, like statues made of clay,
mark marbled tombs in graveyards groomed for grievers bent to pray.  

The sun-bleached bones of those who've flown lie scattered down the lanes
while other souls who hid in holes left bones with yellow stains
of plaintive tears (shed insincere, for no one felt the pains).

The terrors wrought by conscience fraught once stalked and lurked nearby
to rip the shrouds from  curtained clouds, frail fabrics on the sky –
now wraiths that scream in sleepless dreams no longer terrify.

And fog no longer leaks beyond the edge of doom’s café,
for when she trails her mourning veils, she fills the cabaret
with sallow smears of misty tears  in sheets of shallow gray.

Beyond the suburbs, farmers’ fields (where donkeys often brayed)
exhale a gust of barren dust where living seed once laid
and in the haze a scarecrow sways, impaled upon a *****.

A silo, still! Like hollowed quill, a ravished feather’s vane,
with traces of bespattered blood, once flowing through a vein.
The fruits of life, destroyed in strife... ’twas truly all in vain.


No souls will come with jagged tongues to sing a silent psalm
nor paint pale lips with languid quips to pierce the deathly calm –
they've seen, you see, life’s brevity, beneath a neutron bomb.


EPILOGUE

Beyond the Silent City’s walls, the victors laugh and play...
They’re celebrating PEACE ON EARTH, the devil’s sobriquet
for neutron radiation death in places far away.