TYBURN (a neck verse)


after Peter Linebaugh


cranes over tyburn
(‘marble arch place’)

paddy-necks, bull-necks, they came to hang, they came to hang
at the tyburn crossroads, twenty-four necks a time on the crossbeams,
yahoo-necks, prole-necks, they who lived amid dung and refuse,
they who lived by a waste economy, they who spat at the law
excluded from law’s grace, poor-mouthing
Lords Hategood and Vainglory

picaro-necks, rapparee-necks, conveyed in eight carts to be hanged
by the brook, hauled through dust and dirt, jolted over every rut,
highwayman-necks, receiver-necks, the roast beef of old England
bought and sold over pot and pipe, absconding from turnpikes
to the commons, petit traitors
to causes not theirs

sharper-necks, higgler-necks,
pilferer-necks, poacher-necks,

necks of the tyburn martyrs, swilling their pint-jugs of anaesthetic


scaffolds on the present-day site at Edgware Road, tall cranes
in the shape of a T, the Norman look of the building works,
base jacks, mesh, tubes bristling upright like palisades, a fleur
de lys pattern on the advertising hoardings

inside, orange diggers drill, maybe they’ll disturb a relic, the name
of the luxury homes will be ‘The Bryanston’, no one will notice
invisible men and women dangling from the main transoms
where the Odeon used to be
and the boutique cinema is coming soon


Niall McDevitt


TYBURN (a neck verse) was first published in The Wolf http://www.wolfmagazine.co.uk/35index.php

(I am grateful to Peter Linebaugh’s tragic magnum opus The London Hanged
for some of the vocabulary and phraseology of the poem)

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Blake Estate

William Blake Estate. Lambeth

I have created a new walk especially for the Waterloo Festival 2017.  https://www.waterloofestival.com

The Rimbaud Blake Waterloo Lambeth Walk is something I’ve always wanted to do, but separately. However I wasn’t sure how to do a satisfying Rimbaud walk in Waterloo, or a satisfying Blake walk in Lambeth. Combining the two poets and territories solves the problem.

As well as the usual Graham Robb and Jean Luc Steinmetz biographies of Rimbaud, the G.E. Bentley and Peter Ackroyd biographies of Blake, I have found help at hand in Chris McCabe’s terrific Real South Bank, a poet-euphoriant’s guide to the area.


The walk will offer a very good excuse to make manifold connections between two of the all-time geniuses of world literature, and is part of an all-day event Writing on the Wall at Saint John’s Church, Waterloo, curated by Jay Ramsay and featuring luminaries such as Jeni Couzyn, Aidan Andrew Dun and Peter Owen Jones.

Rimbaud Waterloo

Nando, Stamford St. (probable site of Rimbaud’s 178 Stamford St. address)

The eco-immersive route will also take in the green spaces of Waterloo and Lambeth such as St Johns Garden, the Millennium Garden, William Blake Estate, Archbishops Park, as well as the riverside itself.

Sat 3 June, 10am-6pm

Bookings: https://www.waterloofestival.com/poetry


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Bacon 3

1) Both William Blake and Francis Bacon are regarded as Soho artists, but for different reasons.

Blake was born in Soho and lived at several Soho addresses inc. 28 Broadwick Street (now a Patisserie Valerie) and 28 Poland Street.

Bacon was neither born nor resident in Soho. He lived in several South Kensington addresses inc. 7 Cromwell Place and – more famously – 7 Reece Mews. Bacon worked at home, but liked to hang out in Soho at various pubs, clubs, gambling joints,  and restaurants. Only a chosen few saw him in his studio whereas in Soho he was a public figure, always the centre of attention and surrounded by a retinue. He epitomises bohemian Soho.

Blake worked at home also. The Soho pub he is associated with is The Kings Arms on Poland Street, now a gay pub that occasionally hosts Druidic gatherings.

Blake Crucifixion

The Soldiers Casting Lots for Christ’s Garments 1800

2) Blake was an extremely religious artist, though unorthodox. Bacon was a militant atheist. This hasn’t prevented Blake being celebrated by the hard left for his radical politics, or Bacon from being considered as a 20th century religious painter.

Both were hardworking Protestants who didn’t go to church!

Blake believed implicitly in an afterlife. “I cannot think upon death as anything but a removing from one room to another.’

For Bacon, death was nothingness. He liked to joke that when he died his body should be put in a bag and thrown in the gutter.

Both painted crucifixions. Oddly enough, Bacon painted more crucifixions than Blake.

The philosopher who influenced Blake most was Swedenborg. Bacon’s  philosopher of choice was Nietzsche. Both aimed to make work that bypassed the intellect.

Bacon birthplace

63 Lower Baggot Street

3) Bacon was born into the English upper classes, but in Dublin, and grew up in Ireland.

Blake was born into the artisan-craftsman class of petty-bourgeois London shopkeepers but who tended to be highly creative and rabidly dissenting.

Blake struggled for most of his life on a very low income, alleviated by the patronage of friends and admirers.

Bacon supported himself initially by prostituting himself to wealthy homosexual men. Later he became wealthy – and generous – beyond most people’s dreams. He entertained his lucky friends on a princely scale.

4) Their schoolings were both highly irregular. Blake was home-educated. At 10, he went to drawing school for four years, and then studied engraving for seven years.

Bacon briefly attended school in Cheltenham but was entirely unacademic. He had no formal training as an artist.

While Blake was a child genius, Bacon was a slow developer, only getting into his stride in his mid-30s.

Both fell out definitively with their fathers and left their family domiciles in Soho and Kildare respectively. James Blake – hosier – didn’t approve of William marrying an illiterate market trader. Eddy Bacon – horse trainer – didn’t approve of Francis regularly trying on his mother’s underwear. (One wonders what James Blake would have said to Francis Bacon?)

Both were autodidacts. Bacon also learnt much from father figures. Blake didn’t need substitutes and went on to envisage God as Nobodaddy.

5) Bacon’s politics were mostly rightwing libertarian. Blake was a revolutionary Enthusiast. Both were mercurially idiosyncratic.

Bacon’s Painting 1946, and others, portray the powerful as tyrannical and disturbed. Blake’s images of Nebuchadnezzar and Urizen perform a similar function. Both are disillusioned with the political realm and invest all their hopes in artistic creation.

Blake wore a bonnet rouge to signify his approval of the French Revolution and was rumoured to have been in favour of a French invasion. Bacon was terrified of a Russian invasion and of England becoming a communist satellite of the USSR.

Both were fascinated by figures and images of power. Blake envisioned before his eyes historic kings, not to mention Satan, and drew them on the spot. Bacon kept photographs of the dictators of modern Europe in military regalia, channelling their essences into his cosmos.

While Blake wrote and painted his epic poem Europe A Prophecy, Bacon thought of his subject matter as ‘the history of Europe in my time’.

Bacon Two Figures
6) Blake was a monogamous heterosexual. Bacon was a polyamorous homosexual. Though Blake imagined ‘free love’ and wrote and painted in a way that championed sexual freedoms, his wife did not share his aspirations.

Bacon’s sex life was uninhibited, but a dangerous mix of alcoholism and sadomasochism.

Blake’s relationship with Catherine was supportive and productive. Bacon’s relationships with Peter Lacy and George Dyer ended in tragedy and disaster; but he a found a late, if platonic, stability with John Edwards.

Both made images of their lovers.

Blake Vagabond
7) Blake and Bacon both liked a drink. Blake was supposedly fond of porter and wine. Bacon loved champagne and fine wines. Blake was probably more of a moderate drinker and once referred to himself as ‘drunk with intellectual vision’. Bacon’s consumption was mythological.

Bacon’s painterly vision is sometimes seen as representing the blurred state of drunkenness.
Blake’s vision has been scientifically labelled as ‘eidetic imagery’. Neither explanation seems to do justice to the greatness of their arts.

Bacon ingested drugs, if they were going, but not habitually. There’s no evidence that Blake used drugs.

8) Blake loved to draw, and defined engraving as ‘drawing on copper’. Bacon – contrary to popular opinion – did draw but only for preparatory exercises, as a means to an end. He usually destroyed the drawings when he had finished with them.

Both artists distorted the human body, in their own very differently customised ways.

Both use outline in their paintings. (Blake called it ‘the Line of Beauty’).

Both are criticised for their representations of the human form,  and sometimes accused of being ‘unable to draw’.

Both also possessed a raw power in their image-making that went ‘beyond the gentility principle’ and shocked viewers.

9) Bacon did not like Blake as an artist at all, but admired him as a poet.

10) Blake loved Fuseli, Bacon hated Fuseli. Blake admired and imitated Fuseli. Bacon hated being compared to Fuseli.

11) Blake and Bacon were affable men but with ferocious tempers. They were both too opinionated about life and art to brook disagreement lightly. Blake was obsessed by “Nervous Fear’, Bacon by the ‘nervous system’.

Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake) 1955 by Francis Bacon 1909-1992
12) Both artists were fascinated by physiognomy. Blake was inspired by the physiognomical writings of Johann Caspar Lavater. Amazingly, Bacon profoundly immersed himself in Blake’s physiognomy by painting a series of studies of Blake’s 1823 life-mask in the mid-1950s. (Bacon probably ended up knowing Blake’s face better than Blake ever had.)

Furthermore, Bacon obtained a copy of the life-mask and placed it in a prominent position in his legendary studio, right beside the circular mirror. It appears in some photos of the studio, but not in others. It would be helpful to know when he acquired his own copy.

If you visit Francis Bacon’s studio in Dublin, the Blake life-mask appears in photos of the studio and is itemised in the information about the studio contents. But Blake’s head is missing! The Hugh Lane Gallery can solve the problem by finding Bacon’s copy of the life-mask, or buying another from the National Portrait Gallery.

Post Script

Both artists are commemorated in Soho.

Blake’s memorials are more official, including William Blake House on the site of his birth, and the excellent John W. Mills bronze triptych inside it.

Blake is represented in ‘The Spirit of Soho’ mural whilst Bacon is strangely absent, even though his friend Jeffrey Bernard is included.

Bacon appears in photographs in the French House, one of his favourite haunts.

Niall McDevitt

Photo of Bacon image in the French House: Julie Goldsmith

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Today – Good Friday – by sheer luck, I was made aware of a magical piece of furniture in London, even while sitting on it.

Attending Cathie Pilkington’s show Anatomy of a Doll in the Life Drawing Room of the Royal Academy, a tour guide told us a potted history of the RA.

The bench we were sitting on had been a fixture in the original Royal Academy site at Somerset House but had moved with the RA via the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square in 1837, and then to Burlington House on Piccadilly in 1868.

The tour guide namedropped two illustrious artists who had sat on the bench during their artistic apprenticeships: Blake and Turner. But that’s not all. Founding members included Joshua Reynolds, Benjamin West and Thomas Gainsborough. And graduates included John Flaxman, James Barry. and John Constable. A lot of gifted arses have sat there in time.

If this is correct – and the bench looks old enough – then it means there is a remarkable relic in town that not all Blakeans knew about. I’m christening it the Blake Bench, but it could just as easily be the Turner or Constable Bench.

Blake studied at the Royal Academy from 1779-1785 but was never elected a Royal Academician.

Photo: Julie Goldsmith


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Bacon 1.jpg

A Walk with Francis Bacon in Soho is the first ever Francis Bacon walk and has been commissioned by Society Club in Soho.

Poetopography is usually concerned with the lives and works of poets in the places they lived and worked in, but Francis Bacon is a very good excuse to break the pattern.

Having done William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Emilia Lanier walks, one could be forgiven for thinking that this walk is about the Elizabethan-Jacobean statesman and philosopher, but no. It is about Francis Bacon the artist who is believed to be a direct descendant of his namesake.

Bacon is one of the most fascinating figures of all, the epitome of an artistic genius in the modern era. He is also a very literary artist influenced by writers who are the subjects of other walks I have done: Blake, Eliot, Yeats, Joyce, Rimbaud. He is a poet of the human body.

We will meet at the Society Club, Ingestre Place, Soho, at 3pm on Saturday 29 April. Booking recommended.


Bacon 2

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Courtyard of the Belsavage Inn

It is thanks to the rabid, theatre-bashing Puritan, William Prynne, that we know about an early performance of Christopher Marlowe’s masterpiece, Doctor Faustus.

It took place in the courtyard pictured above, one of the great inn-yard theatres of London, situated at the back of a public house called The Belsavage Inn, located on Ludgate Hill.

That the Belsavage ceased theatrical operations in 1589 means Marlowe’s play must have been performed there in that year, or even perhaps in 1588. It was the follow-up to his two-part Tamburlaine the Great of 1587.

Prynne’s fire and brimstone assault on English theatre was called Histriomastix  (i.e. chewer of the histrionics) but was every bit as histrionic as the art he was criticising.

“… the visible apparition of the devil on the Stage at the Bel-savage Playhouse in Queen Elizabeth’s days (to the great amazement both of the Actors and Spectators) whiles they were there profanely playing the History of Faustus (the truth of which I have heard from many now alive, who well remember it) there being some distracted with that fearful sight.”

Prynne is writing decades after the event, in 1633, and already the production is an urban legend. Prynne even suggests that members of the audience lost their sanity. It reminds us only of how powerful a work of art Doctor Faustus must have been, how antithetical to all orthodoxies it must have seemed, what a frisson it must have generated, dividing Elizabethans into hip and square.

The devil had always been on the stage, especially in the medieval morality plays. That would hardly be shocking. It is the sublimity of the poetry and philosophy of Christopher Marlowe, the great tones and cadences of his blank verse, the high seriousness of the tragedy newly attained by the poet, that caused the storm. Lucifer, Beelzebub and Mephistopheles were standing before thousand-strong audiences declaiming their abominations in Marlowe’s customised ‘mighty line’. As a piece of magickal theatre, it has never been surpassed. There are many imitations, in many media, notably The Litanies of Satan by Baudelaire or even Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones. The magnificence of Marlowe’s poetry in Faustus is unequalled even by Shakespeare because Shakespeare never explored the dark side of the occult with the profound immersion of Marlowe.

The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damned.
O, I’ll leap up to my God! Who pulls me down?
See, see where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul, half a drop: ah my Christ —
Ah, rend not my heart for naming of my Christ;
Yet will I call on him — O spare me, Lucifer!

I personally see Faustus as Marlowe’s elegy for his own soul. He had sold out to Satan in his own private life and the devils were coming to tear him limb from limb. Lucifer, Mephistopholis and Beelzebub seem like Walsingham, Poley, Baines and others from the informer’s underworld; the sympathetic scholars seem like such Shoreditch poets as Kyd, Watson, Shakespeare. Hell itself looms like the Tower of London and the torture chambers of Topcliffe. Working for the Queen’s spymaster – a truly Luciferic figure – had turned Marlowe into a demi-devil. He betrayed fellow students at Cambridge and was perhaps betraying his friends in the School of Atheism, selling information on Ralegh et al to the Privy Council.


Prynne himself made enemies in high places. His ranting and pamphleteering caused him to be pilloried and to have his ears cut off. This seems a fair punishment for a Puritan, as their ears are wilfully deaf to the life-changing sound of poetry.

Marlowe’s punishment is surely the most unjust ever meted out to an English poet. Prynne would have felt it divinely providential: “Stage-Playes are the workes, and Pompes of Satan”.

Thanks to Prynne’s notes, however, we now have the charming vista of the possible stage debut of The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus occurring a stone’s throw from the epicentre of London Christianity at St Pauls Church.


Coaches exiting the gatehouse of the Belsavage on Ludgate Hill








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Walsingham House is a property located at 35 Seething Lane. It commemorates a former resident of the street, better known as the address of Samuel Pepys. The building is currently undergoing a major refurbishment, accumulating storeys.

Walsingham’s visage is obscured by a piece of piping.


Walsingham House

Sir Francis Walsingham was Secretary of State for Queen Elizabeth I, better  known as the Queen’s ‘spymaster’. He was MI5 and MI6 combined, protecting the reign of Elizabeth from the Catholic threat at home and abroad. He did a brilliant job, culminating in two major triumphs at the twilight of his career: masterminding the entrapment and execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587, and helping to see off the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Frankly, I – as an Irishman, republican, and former Catholic – might wish he hadn’t succeeded so well.  He dashed myriad hopes, doused a thousand dreams of insurrection in preventing Elizabeth’s nightmares from coming true.


Stained glass image in St Olaves

His final decade was lived at Seething Lane where he purchased a distinguished ‘capital messuage’ called Muscovy House in 1580. This house was situated between Tower Hill to the south and Crutched Friars to the north, and between the two parishes of St Olaves Hart Lane and All Hallows Barking. It was connected to a laneway called Muscovy Court.

His employment of Christopher Marlowe as an agent was doubtless helped by Marlowe’s friendship with Thomas Walsingham, a younger cousin of the spymaster and patron to the budding poet. Marlowe was a frequent guest at the Walsingham country seat at Scadbury in Kent, now rubble.


St Olaves

On occasion, Marlowe would have visited Francis Walsingham in Seething Lane. Much important interrogation and debriefing work was conducted there. The Tower of London was nearby if subjects proved reticent.

The ‘Seething’ seems sinisterly apt.

Walsingham was a masterful questioner. Only one person seemed to be able to withstand his subtleties, a dubious figure called Robert Poley, witness of Marlowe’s killing. Poley boasted that he never gave an inch to Sir Francis who tried to conceal his frustration by looking out the window and grinning like a dog.


Another famous poet associated with the site is Sir Philip Sidney, husband of Walsingham’s daughter Frances. The Queen disapproved of the marriage but later attended the 1585 christening of Walsingham’s granddaughter at St Olaves. The child was called – tactfully – Elizabeth.

Sir Philip died in 1586 on the frontline of the Protestant vs Catholic struggle, fighting the Spanish in the Lowlands. It is unlikely he and Marlowe met.

Walsingham died at home, to be buried in Old St Pauls. His dying in 1590 exonerates him from any taint of the Marlowe assassination, but questions must surely be asked of Thomas Walsingham, who employed Ingram Frizer as a servant before and after the murder.


The Walsingham Family crest

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