Some things are just perfect. Like Amniotic City, a map of the part of East London that cradles the Thames, produced by the wonderful Lucy Furlong. Only it’s not just a map, it’s a psychogeographic poetic tribute to a side of this wonderful city too rarely see. Just buy it, OK, and then come back and read what Lucy has to say in one of the most insightful interviews it’s been my pleasure to host.
DH: Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions – I just love the sound of Amniotic City (is “Scratching the Surface if the” part of the title? I couldn’t quite tell)
LF: It’s Amniotic City but my friend who helped me with the artwork added Scratching the Surface in a sense of a series of maps and I liked it- as I am intending to scratch the surface of other places as well 🙂
DH: you mention the importance of poking your nose into London’s liminal spaces. I couldn’t agree more. What do you find there? And what does it tell you about what lies on the other side, and can we ever get to the other side?
LF: I’ve been interested in liminal space for years, for all kinds of reasons, but it’s got stronger as time has gone on. When I lived in Bristol I used to walk around the city during my lunch hour and I discovered so much about it that I had never known about by wandering around looking in the nooks and crannies that any old city inevitably has. Most importantly I discovered how the city felt, changes in energy, remnants. I think a seed was sown at that point. I’ve been back to Bristol and some of this has since disappeared in the constant overhauling and developing of everything.
It’s the spaces which have been overlooked and uncolonised which offer most. I don’t know if we can really get to the other side but we can pick up the pieces and make our own pictures and patterns of meaning with them. They may give us some alternative visions and possibilities of what happened, away from the tour guides and history books. Also the thing about liminal space is that it is the space of between, of opportunity and potential. It’s literally edgy.
The other day I was in Eastbourne on a day out with my son and friends, and of course under the pier is one of those spaces. My friend and I both remarked on the energy there, and the types of people who were attracted to it.
DH: asking which has immediately made me think of Dante. Is Amniotic City a guide through what lies on the other side?
LF: I love this! I think your asking is giving me an answer to my constant searching. Yes, maybe it is an attempt at that. Amniotic City is a weaving of my discovery of the Great Goddess up on Ludgate Hill (obviously I am not the first to feel Her there) mixed with my own experience of being a mother and a single parent and also of dealing with the challenges of having a long distance relationship, all of which were at the forefront of my mind last year.
If you are a nosy parker and a dreamer then it’s not too much of a leap to conflate the two and find yourself glimpsing tantalising fragments of gardens, homes, hidden or off-limits spaces, making connections between them and stories about them. I’ve always been looking for ‘the other side’. I was obsessed with fairytales as a child and was quite content to sit in a tree or under a hedge, happy in my own dreamworld. Not much has changed really… The Temple offers that secret passageway/secret garden in the City kind of space- it feels unreal, sometimes sinister, sometimes a place of beauty and respite, mostly a puzzle.
DH: what is so very special about this part of London for you, personally?
LF: When I started my degree at Kingston University in 2008, my son was about sixteen months old, and I had had no time to myself at all, so I finally had time again to go and explore and write about London, and that was what I did. I was on my own most of the time and so each journey I took became quite intense and meaningful, I was reclaiming parts of my identity back after several difficult years, and also forging new parts of me, following motherhood. I really felt like I had come back to a city where I belonged and felt nurtured especially last year, by this part, hence the ‘Amniotic City’.
Also it felt watery, the element of emotion, and there is the Fleet flowing across the bottom of Ludgate Hill, covered up, for me a metaphor of unexpressed emotion. Field Recordings in Carter Court came out of a moment where I had met up with my boyfriend, after not seeing him for several months and we discovered Carter Court. It was raining steadily and we stood and listened to the rain and knew there was something special about it. The passageway and door lintels going into Carter Court are actually the only pre-Great Fire structures still standing in that part of the City, as I discovered later, which made it quite magical. People had stuck coins into the cracks of the door lintel. It felt like there was something sacred going on there.
It was quite odd because when I went to St Vedast I just felt a real presence there, and when I got home and looked it up, there were remains of an altar to the goddess Diana found in the Goldsmith’s Hall which is right by there. There is an X shape in cobbles marked across the paved courtyard garden, ‘X marks the spot.’ Local office workers go to eat their sandwiches at lunchtime. It’s a lovely space and had a profound effect on me.
DH: If people read your poems as they travel, does the experience of reading the poems enhance the experience of travelling or does the experience of travelling enhance the experience of the poems?
It would be wonderful to think it’s both but I think the latter really- and you get to have a pint in Ye Old Cheshire Cheese!
LF: I love the use of the Feminine in what you say about the book. The most incerdible creative experience I ever had was touring Oxford with my friend Katelan Foisy, who was involved in producing the book Lilith: Queen of the Desert. Katelan dessed up as Lilith and we went around Oxford taking photos of residents’ reactions to her across the city, and talking to them about Lilith. At the time we were exploring people’s responses to the “eternal infernal feminine” but reading your text makes me think about how the city itself fits into that picture. That’s a ramble not a question, I know, but maybe it’s the start of a conversation…
I would love to have seen that! Yes, ‘eternal infernal feminine’ – this makes me think of one of the poems on the map, The Impossible Circle-Squared Mile, which was from this idea that under the City is this Goddess, pushed underground but still there, never completely destroyed, repressed or denied; waiting. I felt that really strongly in the walk from St Paul’s, down Ludgate Hill, stopping at St Bride’s and then on to the Temple. All these ancient shrines and temples honouring the female, the foundations of the City, built over by the Church and the Banks…
DH: which leads to the question – do people give birth to the city or does the city give birth to people?
LF: Both – that’s a ‘scratching the surface’ and finding a chicken and egg situation…the problem now is that we have the spectacle of late capitalism ruining the City- I walked from Bank to Shoreditch the other day and the amount of huge sky-scraping office blocks going up is changing the space by filling it up and making it inaccessible in that there seems to be no relationship to be had with so many faceless buildings in such a tight space.
I love the Gherkin; I’m not a ‘carbuncle’ kinda gal, but there needs to be a balance…it is fast losing its personality. It reminded me of the wind tunnels of Croydon. Funnily enough the night before I had been watching the 2008 Julian Temple film ‘There’ll Always be an England’ where the Sex Pistols travel around their respective old haunts in London. Fascinating stuff, especially the Paul Cooke/Steve Jones scenes in West London. But it was John Lydon walking across a roof top near St Paul’s which really struck a chord with me, especially so close to the Diamond Jubilee and 35th anniversary of the Pistols glorious Silver Jubilee boat trip down the Thames etc. Lydon looks over the skyline and says:
“Thirty years ago I was bang on the money with what they were gonna do with this place and they’ve done it and noone’s stopped it. They’ve murdered the town…It’s the only thing they can’t away from you is the sun, but you have to be like 500 feet in the air to see it cos London’s now so overbuilt. We’re really lucky that we can see a sunset , no one else in this town can.”
I think he had a point. Last year I saw Iain Sinclair talking at Roehampton University and what he said about London, it was a talk on surveillance, definitely influenced my thinking on Amniotic City, especially the poem, Last Bee in the City of London.
Which all sounds very depressing but I still love London and Londoners and still feel optimistic for the City…it’s been around for a long time. After spending all that time last year walking around and writing about St Paul’s and Fleet Street it wasn’t too much of a surprise when Occupy set up there.
DH: and finally, the idea of the map fascinates me. If the city has precedence in some way over its inhabitants, is it the case that all of us, residents and tourists alike, are in need of direction through it?
LF: Yes, more so now than ever, as we are constantly being directed towards spending money, in controlled environments. But what kinds of direction do we need and who from? Do we need someone to tell us where to go or should we do what those before have done and adopt the posture and gait of the flaneur/flaneuse? Or use the derive of the Situationists? I did hear about someone, maybe it was more than one person, using the map of a completely different city to journey around another. We need to be able to explore, walk, wander, hang out and experience London freely. We are monitored at every angle, aspect and ratio.
Photographers, and I count myself as one, because I map all my journeys by taking hundred of photos, are having issues taking photos in the City. This is getting increasingly worse and more extreme in the lead up to the Olympics. The privatisation of public space is a major issue for us, and I don’t know if and how it will be resolved. Walking is what humans do, I feel as though my soul is attached to the soles of my feet – if you walk and let your mind wander in the City it is amazing what secrets She will tell you.