Thursday, 8 October 2009

A poem for National Poetry Day 2009

By Leaves We Live - Patrick Geddes 1854 -1932

Today is National Poetry Day, and I share with you the blog today from the Independent Republic of the Canongate (see blogs list), a campaigning group begun by concerned local people who love their city, the World Heritage Site of Edinburgh.

The blogging members of SOOT have decided to repeat the piece by Patrick Geddes, Scottish genius, a line from which is in the entrance to the Scottish Poetry Library:

This is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent on the leaves. By leaves we live. Some people have strange ideas that they live by money. They think energy is generated by the circulation of coins. Whereas the world is mainly a vast leaf colony, growing on and forming a leafy soil, not a mere mineral mass: and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests - Patrick Geddes

More on Geddes:

His biography:

Geddes' ideas on good civic planning, and especially 'conservative surgery' rather than wholesale destruction, are ones which are still relevant today.

The website of Save Our Old Town is at and details the long campaign to try to stop the Mountgrange 'Caltongate' development, which would have seen the demolition of listed buildings and a vast new 'mixed use' development of dubious architectural and social merit.

Such was the furore, first local, then national, and finally international, the campaigners created that UNESCO eventually called and said it didn't like what was planned either, and Mountgrange went bust. The two things may or may not be related. Let's hope what is now a major gap site (with several empty handsome historic buildings going to waste on the perimeter) finds a new buyer with more on their minds than simply maximum profit; someone who will help the World Heritage Site remain a wonderful place for those who keep it alive and authentic by choosing to live in it, not simply for those who wish to profit from it.

Two previous blogs which include a great deal more on this

The war is far from over, although at least a few battles have been won. It shows, however, what can be done if you have enough determination and the cause is just.

Each social formation, through each of its material activities, exerts its influence upon the civic whole; and each of its ideas and ideals wins also its place and power - Patrick Geddes

But a city is more than a place in space, it is a drama in time -Patrick Geddes

Geddes and his ideas and ideals need to be more widely known and read.

To all those campaigners fighting to save something precious to them, whatever it may be, that will bring greater good, I say - don't give in or give up. A world without ideals and idealists would be an impoverished place.



Liverpool Preservation Trust said...

Seeing as it is national poetry day there should be a mention to our very own Liverpudlian and his epic ode to Liverpool

The Beautiful World Heritage Site On The Silvery Mersey

By William McGonagall

"Oh what a beautiful sight to behold"
many people would say, as their stories they told
Of the time they arrived in fair Liverpool
And their eyes lit up and their mouths did drool

The world came here, from all cultures and races,
Welcomed ashore by our fine three graces.
Though I feel that I must point out to you,
Before 1911 there were only two.

So without wishing to be at all pedantic
Not everyone who has crossed the Atlantic
Would have been met by the graceful three
When they ended their journey across the sea.

But I am sure the experience was not diminished
By the Liver Buildings not being finished
But all who do see them it has been said,
From Shanghai to Peru or Birkenhead

Do loudly cheer and we must surely agree
That it is a most beautiful sight to see
So highly in fact did the visitors rate us
That now it is granted World Heritage status

We take Pride in and love in equal measure
Our port, an architectural treasure
Best viewed from the river or the Albert dock
But what is this people cry out in shock?

For they are constructing something new
That has destroyed what was the finest view
Where once their image was reflected
Two great dark slabs are being erected

Misshapen blocks of cold shining black
A featureless mass stops you dead in your track
For what was once a site of celebration
Has suffered a heinous desecration

A rising monstrosity that now defaces
The land around our proud three graces
What kind of demented fools approved
With the risk of our status being removed?

The construction of these soulless towers
Like great black slugs amongst fragrant flowers
A great architectural travesty
Like two new Concourse Towers on sea

And who of sound mind would buy or rent
Next to the great Mersey Tunnel vent
For a healthy living must be in doubt
Where the carbon monoxide filters out.

How many new flats we should be told
Are now occupied or remain unsold
I offer a quick unscientific test
Hands-up if you live in One Park West

If you bought one of those, what price did ye pay?
And what may I ask is it valued at today
Had ye been at the demon drink when ye signed the cheque
For a home that looks like Wigan Tech?

The city skyline that now we see
Devoid of art and symmetry
A rising mess of concrete and glass
From the architectural dunces class

Even where we yoyage on our famous ferry
They’ve created a heap that looks built by Jerry
Winner of the great carbuncle cup
Like a caravan with it’s downside up

Is there nay reached a point of saturation
For the city planners to have some hesitation

Or is it the fact each planning application

Is a gift to property speculation?

Wrapped in the term regeneration

Yet with the city’s falling population

It does nothing to address our real housing need

For the driving force for this is greed

And while the ink on one application’s still damp
The next one’s there for the rubber stamp
To keep adding more common sense can’t deny
We are building ghost towns in the sky

"That will be three shillings and sixpence please."

Nemesis said...

Indeed - the bard now buried alongside Greyfriar's Bobby in Embra WHS would be delighted that his spirit lingers on, I'm sure.