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Poet in residence sought by London charity funder

Poet-in-residence artwork

City Bridge Foundation, London’s largest independent charity funder, is inviting applications for the new role of poet in residence, to celebrate the funder in verse.

The 900-year-old City Bridge Foundation maintains five bridges leading into the City of London at no cost to the taxpayer. This includes Tower Bridge. The successful applicant for the unique role will be expected to visit Tower, London, Southwark, Millennium and Blackfriars bridges to draw inspiration for their work.

The poet-in-residence will also be encouraged to celebrate in verse the charity’s role in awarding over £30 million each year to projects across the capital city, and the work of the charities that it funds.

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What rhymes with ‘bridge’?

The poet-in-residence scheme is launched today on World Poetry Day, in partnership with The Poetry Society, the UK’s national organisation for poetry. It will support the foundation in advertising for, selecting and managing the poet-in-residence.

The role is open to published poets of any style who either live in London or are able to travel frequently to the capital to frequent the five bridges and visit some of the charities funded by City Bridge Foundation.

The Society, founded in 1909, works with poets at all stages of their careers, whether publishing new writing by top names in its magazine The Poetry Review, organising residency schemes and new commissions, or encouraging new generations of young poets in schools or through talent development schemes.

It is a charity and an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation.

A unique role

Giles Shilson, City Bridge Foundation chairman, said:

“For hundreds of years, our bridges have been central to the story of London during its happiest and its darkest moments, yet tributes to them in verse are surprisingly scarce. Our new poet will celebrate the bridges’ long history, their relationship with the city and the river and the vital role they play in the day-to-day life of modern Londoners.”

City Bridge Foundation chairman Giles Shilson
City Bridge Foundation chairman Giles Shilson.

He added that the job is “the only one of its kind anywhere”. He sees it as “a way of celebrating our bridges and our funding work, while supporting and promoting poetry as a modern, vibrant, culturally relevant art form.”

The Foundation is unusual not just for its longevity and size. It has just one trustee – the City of London Corporation, the governing body for the Square Mile.

Judith Palmer, Poetry Society Director, said:

“This is a tremendous opportunity to bring [the bridges’] history and current character to life through poetry. The poet will work with communities around the bridges to capture in poetry what the landmarks mean to them, as they build up an exciting contemporary picture of the city’s bridges.”

The Poetry Society Director Judith Palmer
The Poetry Society Director Judith Palmer

She explained what a poet could bring to the role of the City Bridge Foundation:

“Poets have a unique ability to distil the essence of what makes a place special and to guide us to pay attention to familiar places in new ways. For centuries, the bridges of London have captured the public imagination, inspiring some of our most beloved songs and works of literature.”

City bridges in literature

The bridges of the City of London have featured in many artworks, from paintings to films, and in literature.

London Bridge is Falling Down

One of the world’s most famous nursery rhymes deals with the dilapidation of the original mediæval stone bridge. Indeed, it was the fund that was set up 900 years ago from tolls, rents, bequests and other income that is still used today by City Bridge Foundation to maintain its bridges. If the nursery rhyme ever did come true, the bridge would be rebuilt without recourse to the public purse.

Neverwhere

Tower Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge both feature in Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel Neverwhere, set in the magical underground realm of ‘London Below’.

Tower Bridge actually does have a subterranean space. Its bascule chambers host the lower end of the bridge’s lifting mechanism which descends when the bridge is raised to let shipping go past.

The Waste Land

TS Eliot featured the Victorian London Bridge, opened in 1831, in The Waste Land. He compares City commuters crossing the bridge to the condemned souls in Dante’s Inferno. City commuters on a Monday morning might at times relate to that feeling.

The Iron Bridge

The forerunner to the current Southwark Bridge is the haunt of Little Dorrit in Charles Dickens’ novel of that name.

It is also mentioned in the opening line of Our Mutual Friend.

Dickens knew the bridge well from growing up in the nearby Marshalsea Prison, where his father was an inmate.

London Bridge

American hip-hop artist Fergie topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 2006 with a track called London Bridge.

Confusingly the music video for the track featured Tower Bridge, a mixup perpetuated in many TikTok versions of the song.

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