The Independent London Newspaper



Books: Interview with poet and former union official Roy Lockett

Poet Roy Lockett is the former deputy general secretary of the Broadcasting, Ent

Published: 01 July 2010

ON a table in Roy Lockett’s home in Torriano Avenue is the fruit of years of concentration – a thin volume of poetry with a front cover depicting aspects of the surrounding streets. 

The former deputy general secretary of the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (Bectu) may be retired, but he is not putting his feet up. Writing poetry is, he says, as hard if not harder than union work. 

“It’s graft,” says Roy. “The muse does not ­settle on your ear like a butterfly. You have to work and keep working, keep editing. If you can say what you say in a poem in any other way, it’s not poetry, so it’s a distinctive medium.”

From the history – both natural and ­man-made – of Kentish Town to the war-torn landscapes of Gaza, which he visited several years ago, the 70-year-old draws on a wide range of imaginative fodder.

His fascination with old buildings, in particular churches, began in Croydon, where he grew up in a house not far from Croydon Parish Church, founded in Saxon times. 

Having left school at 15, Roy went to work as a compositor before becoming an apprentice in a studio. 

“Because I grew up involved in politics and my union, I got a TUC scholar­ship and went to Ruskin College, Oxford,” he says.

Roy has since written poetry “in a sporadic way” but was fortunate in relocating from south London to what must be a contender for the title of London’s poetry capital. He lives just around the corner from the Torriano Meeting House (“an infrastructure for poetry”) whose founder John Rety died earlier this year.

“He was a dynamo,” says Roy. “He helped nurture young poets. I always joke that if you live in Torriano Avenue and don’t write poetry, then the poetry police will get you. The Torriano Meeting House is a huge asset to the community. It’s extremely important that it survives.”

Boundless love for his locality shows in Roy’s jaunty lyricism. In Leighton Road, the first poem in the collection, he writes of the “spil­ling sloshing eyeshine gladness” that fills the street in springtime. 

Other poems in the collection are more melancholic. In The Lost Birds of Kentish Town, a poem about memory of disappeared species, he writes: “We live with unexpected silences and a kind of emptiness. More than birds have been lost from Kentish Town.” 

“I’ve been interested in nature all my life,” says Roy, “and particularly the nature that exists in urban spaces. 

“It’s interesting to see what emerges, what survives. Once upon a time I remember that at night Leicester Square used to be full of starlings. They’re iridescent birds, like silk, and they’re great mimics. They’ll mimic anything – just sit under a tree and tap or whistle and they will imitate you if you’re there for long enough. 

“Now you hardly ever see them, but on the other hand there are amazing things you do see – a great squadron of long-tailed tits singing and swarming from tree to tree; six thrushes on a sapling; goldfinches. So it’s full of surprises and delightful things as well as those great voids.”

Roy says it’s no coincidence that such a thriving poetry scene exists in Kentish Town – even aside from the Torriano Meeting House and its enormous influence. 

“I think Kentish Town is unique,” he says. “Of course, no matter where you are all you have to do is look and you will find all of those intersecting histories. 

“But in Kentish Town there is such variety and electricity, all the people from all over the world – Russians, Somalis, Greeks, Irish, Bengalis. It’s a rainbow race.”

l Kentish Town and Other Loves is published by Hearing Eye, £4. 

It is available from   local shops including Bumblebee and Salvino’s in Brecknock Road, and Susan’s Mini Market in Torriano Avenue, as well as the Owl Bookshop, Kentish Town High Street, NW5. 

• Roy will be reading alongside other poets at Kentish Town Community Centre’s Street Festival,
at Busby Place/Oseney Crescent, NW5, on Sunday July 25 from 2pm.


I love the swoop of Leighton Road glissading down to Kentish Town,
I love her songs, I love her reasons, her terraced houses and her seasons:
the thirties flats where if you look you’ll find a plaque to Donald Cook
whose rent strike back in sixty-four shook Camden Council to its core,

the Assembly House where Burton starred, the gatehouse to our boulevard 
where suddenly the sky grows vast and Hampstead Heath is clear at last
across the railway and the lights, blue air by day and starred by night,
where on a white hospital roof that strange menorah stands aloof.

And canopied by London planes flickered by sun and shone by rains,
the softly cambered speedbumped road where cyclists mock the highway code 
and Russians, Irish and Somalis engage in endless smiling parleys 
and smokers grouped outside the Gloucester sup Guinness on their endless roster.

Down by the flats in early spring I’ve heard the speckled thrushes sing,
seen cherry trees agog with flower kaleidoscope an April shower,
a spilling sloshing eyeshine gladness springtime Leighton full of madness 
when all the folk of Canteloupe eat tropic fruit and loop the loop.

We have a secret worth the keeping: that under us the fields lie sleeping 
and country names now label blocks of flats with beds of hollyhocks,
passed by chattering under-nines all holding hands in straggly lines: 
a new and eager generation remakes our old north London nation.




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