I put together a podcast full of the poems from my Residency, plus lots of music and comedy clips about the Romans, for Apples and Snakes. Have a listen!
I ran a writing drop-in session at Canterbury Roman Museum last Wednesday, where people were free to join me in creating some Roman artefact-inspired poems. David Walsh (who joined me on the very first leg of my walk from London to Canterbury back in September) dropped in, and wrote up his experience here. He links this creative exercise to ‘cognitive archeology‘ and says that:
Suddenly, the tools of the mosaic layer (my pick) weren’t just objects behind a glass screen – I had a whole idea of where this guy had come from, why he was in that occupation, and how he felt about the art he was creating. Some academics might be cynical of such an approach, but when you spend a lot of time looking at sites and finds, it’s easy to forget these were real people. […] it is a fun, interesting way of experiencing the past. What I really loved is how some of the others present, who were not archaeologists or poets, embraced this idea and went away with a new interest in both the arts and ancient world.
Here’s a poem David wrote, inspired by a mosaic tool and ending with an excellent punchline:
Hours pass as if only seconds
I barely notice the sweat across my brow
Locked so intently in my task
I do not see Orpheus
I see myself, the colours and shapes like a mirror
I do not feel the weight of the tools
They are my hands, my finger tips
This is my epitaph to the world
A piece of myself that will remain
When the rest of me has long since departed
The art will linger on to inspire
Like the words of Cicero
The theatre of the Flavians
The Wall of Hadrian
My name will be forever be written in the tessera
… and I’m sure no-one will notice the mistake.
David’s also been helping me get my facts right in a poem about Mithraism, which I will be reading at MOLA’s event to celebrate the oral history project about the discovery of the Temple of Mithras in London. Can’t wait!
After my walk from London to Canterbury, I will be properly in-residence at Canterbury Roman Museum on Wednesday 21 January! I’ll be writing new poems inspired by the walk and artefacts all day at the Museum between 10am and 4pm – and you can join me!
Drop in any time to explore the artefacts and perhaps even write a poem. No need to book – just bring a pen and some enthusiasm!
Hope to see you there!
One of the aims of the Residency is to engage the public with research. To that end, Ray Laurence – Professor of Roman History and Archaeology at the University of Kent, who instigated this whole project – has taken one of my poems and added hyperlinks to interesting stuff.
So here’s a previous Residence poem redone with extra depth – read and click through! Want to add a relevant link? Send a comment or a message!
Bring me that wood
and I will show you a wonder
a way to bend the world
to our will.
We are masters of this domain
no river will stop us
Nature’s forcefully flung weapons
no match for our ingenuity.
Build me a bridge.
Build me a bridge
and I will show you an empire
an idea realised
in support pole and path.
The glory of Rome.
III – Power and Propaganda
The glory of Rome
hangs from the bridge
a banner rustling in the breeze
proclaiming all is well.
Thoughts of rebellion die
in front of this display of power
confronted by superior force
they are useless.
Throw them away.
IV – River Offerings
The river has it now
your humble offerings cast away
the votive to your god
its sacred course set.
Pray they won’t abandon you.
V – Battles
Pray they won’t abandon you
those you call your brothers
in arms, in battle
as you face your enemy.
On the other bank
readying his weapons
preparing the charge.
Hope it doesn’t come down to this:
the tactic of last resort
a desperate measure
but the commander’s cry goes up:
I begin the day at Fleur De Lis Heritage Centre in Faversham, and see some great examples of Roman coins and jewellery.
Then it’s off for the longest leg of my walk – towards Canterbury, via Bigbury Hill fort. Two and a bit hours of solid walking gets me to Harbledown, where I’ve arranged to meet Lloyd. He takes me to Bigbury, around tight roads and undulating landscape. You can still see the work of the Iron Age people, with signs of ramparts and enclosures. This is one of the few possible sites of Caesar’s 54AD battle in Kent, and the whole place is very evocative. I speak to Kent Uni’s Andy Bates – who has been digging and researching the area – on the phone, and he talk me through the site. Then I get to play with some more archeological equipment – geophysical (geofizz) surveying gear. It looks like a TIE fighter.
We climb to the top of the fort, and it’s an impressive view over Kent. A commanding position up a steep hill reinforced with triple ramparts – a tough place to attack. From here the fort looks down two valleys and across the countryside. Opposite is another hill in Homestall Woods, where a recent LiDAR survey found evidence of an earthworks. You can just glimpse Canterbury too! Clearly this was a busy and important area – at least, until the Romans arrived.
Back to the road and the last part of the walk – a short step to Canterbury via the London Road, which I’ve been on and off since Shooters Hill. And suddenly I’m in Durovernum Cantiacorum!
I get my poems and notes together for the evening’s event launching Canterbury Roman Museum’s incredible new acquisition of an Iron Age funeral helmet, where we hear of its fascinating history from Paul Bennett of Canterbury Archeological Trust. I talk about the walk and perform some poems. The whole event is a brilliant conclusion to my week.
Huge thanks to everyone at Canterbury Museums for their engagement with the walk this week and involving me in the event, and to the University of Kent’s School of European Culture and Languages, and Public Engagement with Research teams for sponsoring the project. Special thanks to Ray Laurence and Lloyd Bosworth for their constant support and expertise – it made this week one of the most interesting I’ve had as a poet, and the project one of the best I’ve worked on.
I am still in residency at Canterbury Roman Museum, and have more poems to share in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned for more ways to engage with the project! If you’ve liked it so far, come say hi on Twitter @dansimpsonpoet and with the hashtag #romanresidency.
Paul drops me off back where I left the road at Stone Chapel, so I take one final look at it, wondering about what stood here in Roman times, and get on my way. Up and over the hill and into Ospringe, on Watling Street and just over from Faversham.
Maison Dieu is an incredible building: its lower floor appears sunk halfway down the modern street – obviously down to what would have been street level hundreds of years ago. I arrive just in time to have my photo taken by Kent Messenger, and am then greeted by Ann Wilkinson from the Faversham Society – volunteers who run the museum. Ann’s incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about the Roman artefacts, having recently found and written up the provenance of all the pieces.
She tells me all about William Whiting, a local archeologist and driving force in the area, who meticulously found and documented so many of the artefacts here. I really like the dice and game counters, one of which Lloyd Bosworth has already scanned.
Tomorrow it’s the final leg, as I head to Canterbury via Bigbury Hill – where there is an Iron Age fort that may have been a camp for Romans. Tomorrow’s the big event at Canterbury Roman Museum, where this amazing find will be unveiled. I’ll do a couple of poems! To writing.
Day 4 begins with a highly informative morning poking about in fields with Dr. Paul Wilkinson from the Kent Archeological Field School. We meet at near Bax Farm, where a huge villa, complete with bathhouse and aqueduct, overlooked Watling Street. I’m amazed that we can look down and pick up bits of Roman tile, mortar and pottery – which is true of all the fields we look in. Have a read of the report about Bax Farm – some brilliant stuff there.
I get back on the road and make my way to Faversham Stone Chapel, just off the current route of the road. This is likely to be where the settlement of Durolevum was – now non-existent. I re-meet Paul and he talks me through the chapel building – which is not what it seems. The later structure on top belies a bigger building underneath, set at a slightly different angle. There are red Roman tiles and brickwork on display, but there is much more under the soil. A boundary wall encompassed multiple buildings, themselves over the hill from a fort near a spring. Another KAFS report into it here.
We take a trip to KAFS HQ and walk to where Paul found a theatre near the spring here. At sunset, mists rise up from the water at the bottom of this hill, which must have been a spectacular sight – and an important one, bearing in mind the religious and practical importance of water I talked about yesterday.
Now to Maison Dieu!