Poet-psychogeographer Niall McDevitt takes a walk of discovery along the Thames Embankment tracing the 700-year history of poets and poetry in the area.

Elizabethans, Romantics, Decadents and Beats feature prominently, including the ‘disappeared’ street where Ben Jonson grew up with his master bricklayer stepfather in the 1570s, the bridge where Heinrich Heine wept in despair in 1827, the hotel where Oscar Wilde took his rent boys in the 1890s, and the gay nightclub where ‘Allen Ginsberg Live in London’ was filmed in 1995.

Perhaps the most haunting figure is that of the doomed Ernest Dowson who inspired the title of his friend Oscar Wilde’s most famous play.

The 700 year time lag is bridged by the crucial site that links the father of English poetry Geoffrey Chaucer with the current Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan.

Meeting Sun 9 Sept at 2pm in St Martin in the Fields. Church Path, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 4JJ. £10

The walk will last approx. two hours and will finish in The Olde Cheshire Cheese close to Blackfriars tube.

Dylan 2

Niall McDevitt

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behind the illustrious man a shadow squats

behind the tenured man of academe

a shadow shits

what a shadow does not clean up

how can followers know?

how can flatterers see

his feet

not just of clay but cloven?

the human anus, dragon-scaled


behind the public intellect, a human anus

behind the chambered mind, a serpent’s tail

behind the red facade, a bourgeois grabs

de luxe materials with padded hands

a camouflage

of silks and tweeds and cashmeres

the human anus, dragon-scaled


and everyday at MONEYCORP

he keys in his pin number

fattening the golden calf

of his wallet with bribery fodder


he eats 1000 ducks

his cheeks hamster-stuffed with dim sum parcels

busily debriefing

his acolytes of gossip, information

a laptop cunningly records

anything to use against anyone

who does not see things

from his point of view

(i.e. through a spyglass darkly)

anything personal or impersonal

to his ends can be used

the human anus, dragon-scaled


he tweets the lemon twist

of facts pressed through the juicer

of a big personality

with an even bigger disorder

observable in a microscope

the bacterium of his soul

so very small so very deadly

desperately devoid of hope:

a shill

programmed to play games


and sick of his false victimhood

squealed from a costume of truth

I turn back to my own humanity

for breath

from the anus, dragon-scaled



Poetry: Niall McDevitt

Art: Ralph Steadman (from STRIKE! Magazine Issue 1)

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‘In my end is my beginning’ – Eliot in East Coker

The Lifelong Death of TS Eliot is a new walk by Niall McDevitt exploring the Kensington habitat of the American who was surprisingly voted ‘the nation’s favourite poet’ in a 2009 poll. http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2009/10_october/08/poetry.shtml

Though Eliot is associated with Bloomsbury and with Carlyle Mansions on Chelsea Embankment, Kensington was his true London home both in his middle age and old age.

We will meet Eliot the church warden in his preferred Anglo-Catholic place of worship, Eliot the air-raid warden conducting fire drills in the streets, as well as Eliot the poet-publisher and practical joker.

McDevitt will tell the story of how his sequence The Kensington Quartets became better known as Four Quartets.

As January is the month in which Eliot died – and is also officially the most depressing month of the year – McDevitt will be offering four opportunities to go on this walk.

Sat 20 January, Sun 21 January, Sat 27 January and Sun 28 January.

Meeting 1pm outside Gloucester Road tube station. £10. The walk will last two hours and finish close to Kensington High Street tube station.


Interlude in London

We hibernate among the bricks
And live across the window panes
With marmalade and tea at six
Indifferent to what the wind does
Indifferent to sudden rains
Softening last year’s garden plots.
And apathetic, with cigars
Careless, while down the street the spring goes
Inspiring mouldy flowerpots,
And broken flutes at garret windows.

TS Eliot

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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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