The Greener Infrastructure: a residence at J & L Gibbons, award winning Landscape Architecture & Urban Design practice

Since 2014 I have had the privilege to be poet-in-residence at the inspiring, energetic and committed landscape architects, J&L Gibbons. For over twenty five years, their work with local authorities, developers and community groups has been to envision and realise beautifully designed green infrastructure for the city of London and beyond. Working on everything from the Angel Building to the Barbican, from Walpole Park to Making Space in Dalston, their work and practise is dynamic and fundamentally considerate, and has opened me up to world's of knowledge, and language, that have proven to be consistently inspiring. Visit http://www.jlg-london.com/ & you can follow the new poems related to the residency as they are published on http://thegreenerinfrastructure.tumblr.com/


30 Year Anniversary Event and launching Shifting Ground, a publication - September 22nd 2016

A really wonderful night at Dalston Curve with all the friends, colleagues and members of J&L Gibbons, celebrating three decades of remarkable, innovative, mindful work in shaping the environment of London and beyond. Lovely to work towards this night, where I gave a small contribution with this collective, multivocal reading, through the Shifting Ground publication. A beautiful object, it combines articles, reflections, dialogues, celebrates the past through future work and enterprise, and fortunately for me, contains a suite of my poems. 


The Big Tree Debate at the Garden Museum, London: June 11th 2015

An amazing privilege to publicly evidence my association with J&L Gibbons, I was very kindly asked to read a few poems amidst some wonderful, dynamic talks about Tree heritage and city planning and environment at the Garden Museum in Lambeth. It was a major event, absolutely full, and in the ex-church main hall of the museum. I has the chance to read briefly (which I was delighted to do, briefly) and speak alongside Jo and Tim O'Hare, and vitally, read the poems their work has inspired. It was the most appropriate environment for them, and once done I was able to do what I'd always prefer to do, just listen, and learn from the expertise on display, why people had come and filled out the hall. Brita von Schoenaich (Bradley-Hole Schoenaich), and Anne Jazulot (Trees and Design Action Group) spoke too, and the event was chaired by Evan Davis. More info here. I hope this is the first of many events where I share the stage with the people who have so kindly hosted me over the last year, and it only occurs to me in writing this it has been just over a year & a half since I began my conversations with them.


Dendrophily

The second sequence of poems written with some concentration during my residency, where I began with the underfoot, the below, with Soil, so my discussions with Jo & Neil and the team at J&L Gibbons led me to speculate on the above. Again the conversations sat around the work table in their offices in Islington produce not just ideas of language and form, but of whole approaches, of awarenesses. A necessarily complex methodology is central to their work, and from that I've drawn so much. Often it's a case of patience. The great passion Jo & the team have for the trees of London, and the expertise required to maintain their good health, for the wellbeing of us all, is extraordinary. More to come on this sequence but you can read the first poems here http://thegreenerinfrastructure.tumblr.com/ (The image below is taken from J&L Gibbons work at the Barbican centre)

dendrophily #2: rowan

              You should look out for me coming up
                                                       WS Graham

those useless few aligned
the first to unearth the given air breathed
where an old barrier man made of worth
did not value that experience &
in counterbalance to the bidpedal, the tree
does not receive the leaders it deserves

aligned, they keep in the cuddle,
if you like it, you are seeing double
sinking three figured verge
the lying tree uproots & meets
the village middle ringed with tracks by pigs

the unnerving regularity of the tree
as a new ssense that public support show
paid for. lessons like birch for burning
oak for scatterings (all polished up)
seeder for clogging, a stroke for the airless
woman for pine, employed by the television


Soil

The first sequence of my residency, the mode of my writing in response to the concerns of Jo, Neil & the work of J&L Gibbons is becoming clear. Whereas perhaps, in the past, it has just been the worlds of language that these embedded writing experiences have exposed me to, and while that is also true here, it clearly far more about a mode of working that is coming through in the writing. They do not work statically, the very essence of their procedure is research, consideration - a width of concern, a sense of consequence, a mindfulness of outlying factors and a fully realised knowledge of permutation. Which is clearly very rare in the industry they work in. So when we sit down in the J&L Gibbons office, I am not receiving updates on projects, not just presented with materials and books to scan and read, but whole approaches to environment. So it feels natural my writing would then not just excavate the language of a very certain thing, but attempt to wield that language in a way that doubles back on itself, that winds and folds into multiple meanings that still maintain the beautiful technical edge of the language world but also have a direct message, a lament maybe.

The underfoot, the beneath, is so central to their work. That a city cannot live without it's soil, and we've forgotten that, we've plundered into an ignorance of what lies beneath us, and this will have disastrous consequences. I wrote seven poems, drawing from the complex and brilliant oeuvre of Allen Fisher, each responding to a layer of soil. You can read the full sequence here: http://thegreenerinfrastructure.tumblr.com/ What I did not expect was that these poems would end up in an exquisite pamphlet called Below Ground, full too with essays and information, and drawing on J&L Gibbons partner Tim O'Hare, whose work was also an inspiration for the poems.

A Horizon (topsoil)

                    Myst the gyst in toil and mystery
                    thought it was simply a riddle
                                                       Allen Fisher

the old institution of sediment constitution
is no longer viable < magnetic fields
miniature blackholes, more necessary sewage drilling

the Whole Earth Catalogue apologises
& like the First Primary Rus Chronicle
bound in skin as a necrocomicon, turns black

still surface enough to discern pity
to form low earth speculative astrophysics in clods
the worm fec bubble ghost puck

Reich’s “towards the earth” machine breaks
the Pesci hypothesis       man < baseballbat
all might is ought without ground to think on

springbok of earth - hiding death no less
all magic body juices & profound turning of monkey
from solid to liquid, I await your harvest


The Residency begins: June 2014

In the current moment, the space a poet inhabits is without responsibility. That is in language, and whether or not the poet's response to their language world is powerful or flippant, derisive or optimistic, it is all predicated on a space of engagement with the reader which is entirely voluntary, & all the better for that. All the more room for me to seek out alternative spaces, to attach my practice, parasitically, to those creative few who inhabit the alternative, where they are tasked with shaping an environment where people have no choice but to be. A physical space that requires more than physical reckoning. A profound and humbling challenge it must be, to be faced with the responsibility of shaping space that people will inhabit, to need to be both wholly functional and eminently creative. To be mindful for the everyday in people's lives. So I'm beginning a residency with the remarkable landscape architects J &L Gibbons, and hope somehow, over the next year, to respond to their responsiveness, to somehow reflect the necessary complexity of their work, and the inspiring sensitivity and ethics they embody in their work.

We are all collectively responsible for our space, but there are those of us whose expertise puts them into moments of decision, in real three-dimensional praxis, and whose stake may not be immediate after they have left those environments but whose trace is essential to the feeling and experience of that place. In the urban context, where all, at some point, has been planned or shaped, even if accidentally, by the hands of money, so their role is a fascinating blend of immense power and fundamental invisibility, for the people who will use that space at least, once the architects are gone. This paradox is what attracts me so much to the work of J&L Gibbons and a progressive notion of landscape architecture. For I am, I must admit, quite frequently, unaware of the process of landscape, while being painfully aware of the evolution and environment of language in that very same space. So I believe this residency can be a symbiotic engagement on my part, learning to be mindful of this environmental evolution of the city, especially am ancient city like London, to see with new eyes through the work of Johanna Gibbons and Neil Davidson and their colleagues the changing of environments while tacitly recordings, archiving and reflecting on the language of that process, those spaces and the culture of its happening. 

Like every profession or possession, familiarity breeds diminishing returns in the practitioners understanding of their own responsibility. The grind of unmediated human behaviour undoubtedly leads those who shape our environment to suffer the same prosaic reckoning as any other profession, just as a poet will write the same way for 40 years because he has found some recognition, so the unrewardable complexity of subtle, liminal, 'humane' approaches to the shaping of an environment seems a rare quality that would require great awareness, humility, passion, mindfulness and  ethical self-interrogation. This is my meagre understanding is what defines the work of J & L Gibbons. In fact if I am now able to recognise different fundamental modes of landscape architecture, it is because of my being exposed to their extraordinary work. I had the privilege to speak in person with Johanna Gibbons and Neil Davidson at length about their work, where they fleshed out the content of this talk http://www.gardenmuseum.org.uk/page/grounds-for-optimism-designing-resilient-landscapes-in-london and (perhaps accidentally) exposed me to their remarkable humour, care, sensitivity and engagement with the very root of what they are doing. It so exciting to be in the presence of people at the height of their profession who have never allowed themselves to become lost in the necessary minutia of their task at the expense of the human experience, for all the complexity of that, that underrides their decisions.

I shan't now bring up individual examples of their working history, or their remarkable client list (though its worth looking it up http://www.jlg-london.com as it is all a matter of public record) as I want to save much of it for my work with them over the next year. Suffice to say, in beginning this residency, I am preparing myself for writing that brings with it a responsibility, and that is what I am seeking. Environments are shaped by language as much as anything else, though it hard to reckon, and over the next year I intend to improve my understanding of language in space, in the fundamental shaping of people's living space, and I hope, primarily to permanently refocus my own ability to perceive 3 dimensions and the human presence within then. I am in fine company to do so. http://www.jlg-london.com/