St Helens
Let us suppose – as Geoffrey Marsh does  in his TLS article of April 19 – that Shakespeare moved into the parish of St Helen’s Bishopsgate before 1594; and that he was staying in property owned by the Leathersellers Hall.  It is exciting stuff. We can pin the elusive poet to a specific area for a five year stint or more, and the composition of certain masterpieces therein. But a riot of questions is prompted.

It is surprising that Marsh does not suggest how or why Shakespeare might have ended up staying with the Leathersellers. His father John Shakespeare, a glover, may well have had friends in London who lived with the Leathersellers, and would have had contact with the organisation himself. Older Shakespeare names are on the records. (I first heard this theory from Jerome Farrell who is the archivist at Leathersellers Hall today). It is a charming thought that Shakespeare’s friend and publisher Richard Field was also the son of a tanner, and that Christopher Marlowe was the son of a cobbler. We have much to thank the leather-workers for.

Marsh believes the move to St Helens was a mark of Shakespeare’s prosperity.  However, with paternal help from professional connections, Shakespeare may have found modest accommodation in Great St Helen Street before he began accumulating serious wealth. I tend to imagine a writerly bolthole. For comfort he could retreat to Stratford or stay in the great houses of his distinguished friends, the Earl of Southampton, the Earl and Countess of Pembroke, et al.  It could even mean he was based in St Helens for the better part of ten years. (His other London residencies were seemingly short-lived: Shoreditch in the parish of St Leonards; the Liberty of the Clink at Southwark in the parish of St Saviour’s; Silver Street in the parish of St Olave’s; and the Blackfriars Gatehouse in the parish of St Andrew by the Wardrobe).

Marsh’s supposition is that Shakespeare moved into the parish before the rebarbative Lord Mayor of London for 1594-95, John Spencer, who acquired Richard III’s former home of Crosby Hall. Spencer was a classic Richard III-style machiavel – in the flesh! –  a ruthlessly self-aggrandising member of the mercantile elite. He personified civic antitheatricalism describing Elizabethan theatres as ‘places of meeting for all vagrant persons and maisterles men that hang about the Citie, theeves, horsestealers, whoremoongers, coozeners, connycatching persones, practizers of treason and other such lyke.’ As Sheriff of London in 1584 he wrongfully imprisoned three of the illustrious Bassano brothers, musicians of the court and the theatres. Enter Shakespeare’s neighbour from hell! No sooner had Spencer moved into the same parish as the genius of Elizabethan theatre than he began using his powers to clamp down on it.

However it is surprising that in a lengthy TLS article, Marsh does not mention the famous counter-attack. Shakespeare and his company The Lord Chamberlain’s Men were neither helpless nor ‘maisterless’. Their patron was one of the most powerful men in the realm, a privy councillor, and first cousin of Queen Elizabeth: Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon and Lord Chamberlain. In an amazing pre-emptive strike, Carey wrote a letter on Oct 8 1594, to the outgoing Lord Mayor Richard Martin, asking permission for Lord Chamberlain’s men to play within the city during the winter season. The object was twofold: 1) to find an indoor winter theatre; 2) to cement a deal in advance of Spencer’s mayoralty.  ‘After my hearty commendations where my now company of players have been accustomed for the better exercise of their qualities, & for the service of Her Majesty if need so, require to play this winter time within the City at the Cross Keys in Gracechurch Street. These are to require & pray your Lordship the time being such as thanks be to god there is now no danger of the sickness) to permit and suffer them so to do.’

The ploy didn’t work. Spencer – no NIMBY – spent his year in charge and succeeding years trying to abolish theatre not only within the city but within the liberties and suburbs also.. His series of letters culminate in a demand for a ‘final suppressing’ of the art. Spencer, not Elizabeth, may have been the figure behind the line from Sonnet 66: ‘And art made tongue-tied by authority.’ Thankfully, playhouses began flourishing again after the antitheatrical nadir of 1597 and humanism defeated puritanism for the time being.

Finally, Marsh failed to mention another intimidating neighbour at St Helen’s. Henry Maunder appears in the same lay subsidies as Shakespeare and must have lived close to the poet. He is famous, or infamous, as the man who arrested Christopher Marlowe.

St Helens 2


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Gramsci’s tomb in the Acatholic Cemetery in Rome

The Ashes of Gramsci is a poem – and early book – by Pier Paolo Pasolini. The book was published in 1957 when the poet was  35.  The poem was written in 1954 and caused a furore in Italian literary circles. It was seen as ‘exhibitionist’.

It is an in situ poetic meditation at the site of the Italian Marxist philosopher’s tomb in the Acatholic Cemetery of Rome a.k.a. The Protestant Cemetery and The English Cemetery.

Formally it is in Dante-esque terza rima. An early phrase ‘vast semicircles’ seems to conjure Dante’s presence in a description of the Roman skyline.

As an elegy for a murdered man by a murdered man, it may be unique. Technically, Gramsci died of ill health but that was after 11 years’ imprisonment in hellish conditions followed by a state hospitalisation that deliberately finished off the job. It is one of the worst and most drawn-out martyrdoms any dissenter has ever experienced.

I feel how wrong
– here among the quiet of these graves –
and yet how right – in our unquiet

fate – you were, as you drafted your final
pages in the day of your murder.

Pasolini’s canvas is a rich depiction of a graveyard, literally one of the coolest places in Rome as it is overhung with trees and foliage, a wonderful place to escape from the sun, famed for Keat’s grave and Shelley’s tomb.

Ah, how well
I understand, silent in the end’s wet

humming, here where Rome is silent,
among wearily agitated cypresses,
next to you, Spirit whose inscription calls out

Shelley…. How well I understand the vortex
of feelings, the capricious fate (Grecian
in the aristocratic Northern traveller’s

heart) which swallowed him in the dazzling
turquoise Tyrrhenian Sea…

Though set in the cemetery the poem’s focus leaps to various sites of Italian geography with swift, deft brushstrokes. But it is also firmly anchored in and evocative of the Testaccio area, a working class district known for its abattoir, prostitutes, and an ancient artificial hillside made from empty amphorae. The Tiber is always close by.

The poem is a searching song of ambivalences, containing many of the themes we associate with the poet.


Pasolini at Gramsci’s grave





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The wonderful Taqasim Oud Club have invited me to be guest poet at their final event in 2018.

I shall perform two 15 minute sets with musical interludes and accompaniment at the Poetry Cafe on Monday November 19. Poems shall touch on themes of London, Jerusalem and Babylon/Iraq.

There is an open floor in the first half of the event. Poets can register from 7pm.

Think I’ll be bringing my bodhran for what promises to a beautiful one-off.

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Trevor Joyce

Trevor Joyce is one of Ireland’s most innovative and respected poets.

He co-founded New Writers’ Press (NWP) in Dublin in 1967, publishing Michael Hartnett among others, and was a founding editor of NWP’s The Lace Curtain; A Magazine of Poetry and Criticism in 1968.

He is the author of The Poems of Sweeny Peregrine (1976), with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold (2001), What’s in Store (2007) and many other books.

Despite a 20 year hiatus from 1975-95, his oeuvre is as prolific as it is formally restless.

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Fergal Gaynor

Fergal Gaynor (b. Cork, 1969) is a writer, arts impresario and former front-man of country band Clarence Black. Since 2010 he has edited Ireland’s leading contemporary art magazine Enclave Review.

His poetry has been published in the Irish University Review, Shearsman, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Journal of Nietzsche Studies, among other places. A collection, ‘VIII Stepping Poems & Other Pieces’, appeared from Miami University Press in 2010.

He has been described, in the Irish Examiner, as a ‘young Neoclassicist poet’ of a kind that ‘[James] Joyce would recognise instantly’.


Niall McDevitt

Irish poet Niall McDevitt lives in West London. He is the author of three critically acclaimed collections of poetry, b/w (Waterloo Press, 2010), Porterloo ( International Times, 2013) and Firing Slits: Jerusalem Colportage (New River Press, 2016).

His work appears in Wretched Strangers – an anthology of non-UK born writers; Urban Shamanism – poets from north, west, south and east London; Diamond Cutters – poets in Britain, America and Oceania; and the STRIKE! Anthology.

He is a walking artist who specialises in the historic poets of London, particularly Shakespeare/Blake/Rimbaud/Yeats. He blogs at

His book Babylon (a neoliberal theodicy) is forthcoming from New River Press

Wed 24 Oct at Irish Cultural Centre Hammersmith, Blacks Road, W6 9DT

Doors: 6.45pm 
Start: 7.30pm
Tickets: £7

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Spring mid 2018   1401.JPG

National Poetry Library pays homage to one of the all-time geniuses of world literature, the revolutionary French poet Arthur Rimbaud.

Rimbaud spent 14 months of his meteorically brief literary career in London. In 1872-73 he lived with Paul Verlaine in Soho, Fitzrovia and Mornington Crescent. In 1874 he returned with poet Germaine Nouveau and lived on the South Bank in Stamford Street.

The event features a very special line-up of poets who have been seriously influenced by Rimbaud.

Poet and biographer Jeremy Reed will read from his two major adaptions The Black Book and The Illuminations.

Poets Paul Stubbs and Blandine Longre visit from Paris to read ‘Beyond the Poem’ – a metaphysical essay – and Rimbaud’s ‘Barbare’ respectively.

The poet and musician Penny Rimbaud is writing a piece for the occasion channelling Rimbaud “through the ears of John Coltrane and the eyes of Jackson Pollock”. He will be accompanied on saxophone by Louise Elliot.

Poet Sean Bonney – author of Happiness and advocate of Rimbaud as communard and petroleuse – visits from Berlin.

Irish poet-psychogeographer Niall McDevitt will debut his Pidgin English versions of key Rimbaud texts.

There will be a slideshow of Rimbaud’s London by photographer Max Reeves.

Join us on August 1 – the Celtic feast day of Lughnasa – for what promises to be an unforgettable tribute to the first modernist poet.


The corporate sectors are a mono-stylistic circus, arcades within arcades.
The boutiques are nondescript, but the snow on the flagstones is crushed.
Occasional nabobs, rare as pedestrians on a Sunday morning in London,
make their way towards diamond coaches… I think there is a police force
but the law is so different here I can’t imagine what their criminals are like.

– Cities [2]

Photo: Max Reeves


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A William Blake Walk from Tyburn to Primrose Hill


Niall McDevitt – having created westerly, easterly and southerly Blake walks – unveils the first of two northerly Blake walks.

The site of Tyburn is undoubtedly the most abhorrent in the Blakean imagination. While the Vatican chose to counteract the executions by building the Tyburn Convent, Blake erected a psycho-architectural monument which he called ‘The Gate of Los’.

The walk follows the course of the Tyburn river while telling the stories of Catherine Blake, The Jews Harp Tavern, the Cato conspiracy and George Richmond.

The pilgrimage ends on the magical apex of Primrose Hill where Blake ‘saw the spiritual sun’, and where – 150 years later – Allen Ginsberg meditated with Iain Sinclair filming.

Meeting under Marble Arch on Sun 30 September at 2pm. £10

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A WILLIAM BLAKE/WAT TYLER WALK is a June celebration of London radicalism and the insurgent spirit. Niall McDevitt tells the story of the Peasants’ Revolt – now rebranded as the Great Rising – connecting it with the life and death of England’s most beloved radical poet and artist, William Blake.

The Savoy Hotel meeting point is not only the site of John of Gaunt’s palace but also close to the final Fountain Court address of William Blake, where he famously died singing. Blake was fascinated by Wat Tyler and drew a portrait of Tyler as one of his Visionary Heads series. produced in 1818.

The closest Blake came to seeing an equivalent of the Great Uprising was the Gordon Riots of 1780. McDevitt shall explain how Blake’s comically accidental involvement in the Riots influenced his work and politics. A decade later, he was a vocal supporter of the French Revolution, but one of many radicals who waited in vain for it to cross the channel.

The walk will pass through the Smithfields site of Tyler’s assassination and finish at the burial place of Blake. There will also be fascinating vistas of the lives and deaths of such fellow radicals as John Milton and William Wallace.

Sun 10 Jun meeting at the front entrance to the Savoy Hotel, on Strand, ar 2pm. (We shall finish with drinks at the Blake table in the Masque Haunt pub on Old Street.) £10



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