London Is Calling!

Julia’s Final Project – Learning Analysis Blog Post

Day 1 and Day 2


The first and second day on our international adventure were, as I expected, awesome… and rather overwhelming. Having just arrived in a brand new place I took it all in hungrily. It was information and sensory overload. The first two days forced a hurried adjustment to the constant walking and constant barrage of information and altogether these days were a blurred whirlwind. This was a city unlike anything I had seen before. It was massive, old, and beautiful. I had never seen so many people in my life, neither had I seen a place that presented such a long and rich history. In our time spent exploring the city in these first two days, we met up to see the collection of historical manuscripts at the British Library. Seeing the actual Magna Carta laid out in front of me, to see something so old and so familiar from history class just right there was really quite profound. It was one of those times when I could actually see history and be in the presence of it instead of just imagining it and seeing secondhand pictures. The British Museum was astounding as well. The sheer magnitude of the building, how packed it was with people, the thousands of displays thankfully unencumbered by too many distracting “DO NOT TOUCH” signs, and the fact that I got lost about three times made it difficult to appreciate everything I saw but I felt like because of those factors, the museum was almost daring me to learn as much as I could – because it is actually somewhat challenging.

Day 3 “Our lives were in the hands of the gods, / though we could tinker with them, if lucky.”

The first book, The Emperor’s Babe, was one that I read toward the end of the booklist before the trip and I wish that I had read it first. This book is the perfect historical base for our study of Englishness. Before reading this I had absolutely no idea that London was created by the Romans. The term ‘Londinium’ was completely new to me and I honestly wondered when I first started this book if the author took great creative liberties in regards to history. This caused me to do some research which was very helpful to know in understanding Englishness. I found this novel challenging because I had never read a verse novel before. In keeping with the verse format, Evaristo had to find creative ways to write the story that weren’t perhaps as straightforward or explicit as prose would be so sometimes I found it a challenge to interpret what was really going on or what the author is alluding to.

That afternoon found us at the Museum of London, a place I greatly enjoyed. The Roman gallery gave proof of the incredible presence of Roman influence in London which, I now knew, dates back to the inception of London itself. I really loved the museum’s blending of modern elements with the historical setups. It perfectly reflected the architectural space of London, in which so many structures look nearly the same as when they were built decades or centuries ago, but now they mingle with modern structures. The following is a video created by the Museum of London. Though the video is specifically about Londinium’s Roman Fort, the beginning offers some interesting background on Londinium itself.

Londinium’s Roman Fort

Day 4 “I have spent my life waiting for something to happen, and I have come to understand that nothing ever will. Or it already has, and I blinked during that moment and it’s gone. I don’t know which is worse – to have missed it or to know there is nothing to miss.”

Our reading of Falling Angels and our perusal of the Suffragette Gallery in the Museum of London the day before gave me a pretty good understanding of Victorian England. This was one of the few tastes of Empire that I got from our readings and Empire is something I have found very useful in my study of Englishness. Earlier I had wondered why the author made the cemetery the primary focal point of the novel and when we went to Highgate Cemetery that afternoon, I got my answer. It is so easy to take the cemetery for granted. The very fact it is taken for granted should be reason enough to think about it again and consider the spatial practices of a cemetery. The novel showed class divide, gender inequality, and radical ideas versus deeply-rooted tradition and in our time at Highgate, I realized that the cemetery is a unifying place, it is the place of total equality, where everyone is faced with mortality and no one has the answers. The stone representations people leave of themselves still reflect class and status but regardless, the spatial practice of the cemetery levels the playing field.

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Day 5 “Before, she’d been easily led, / one of the crowd… Not anymore. Now / she could roar.”

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I didn’t find Feminine Gospels to be very useful in understanding Englishness mostly because Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry and the themes therein are so universal. The little snippets of poetry paint a picture that is very honest, self-critical, and outwardly critical of sexism and inequality that we can see throughout all human society. This collection challenged my mindset because though I am an ardent feminist, throughout my life I couldn’t help but pick up on the many stereotypes (i.e. using ‘girly’ or ‘you’re such a girl’ as a derogatory term, etc…). I don’t say things like this very often but when reading this book it was the first time I realized that my use of this at all is perpetuating sexist stereotypes at the same time as I’m trying to demand equality. Also, some of these poems are challenging to get through, not because of content, but because they are so dense. I love the poem “The Map-Woman” but I still don’t quite know what to think of it.

Day 6 “London is immigrant city… [it] was created by migration”.

The Mara Crossing. The simpler question might be: What DIDN’T I learn from this book? In this class and McVicker’s class we had spent so much time talking about the little details, especially because Englishness is defined by little cultural nuances, but this book expanded my thoughts on spatial practice to an international scope. Having such a small magnifying glass up to Englishness through the other books was enlightening but pulling back to get the wider perspective was just as much so, maybe even more. Spatial practices were a difficult concept to grasp but this book provided the perfect concrete illustration of the -at first- abstract concept: the illustration of bird migration. Bird migration is a set pattern that slowly evolves over time due to necessity. These patterns are spatial practices that help define a place. Furthermore, The Mara Crossing showed how elements combine to influence and evolve each other and that “everyone, given time, / changes everyone else”.

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The Natural History Museum was really incredible and helped to solidify the science content of The Mara Crossing but I enjoyed the Victoria and Albert Museum even more. I had thought that the British Museum and the Museum of London were massive but the Victoria and Albert Museum was simply astonishing. Throughout London I could see no greater tribute to the power of the British Empire than this museum. It held objects from every corner of the world and these were no mere trinkets. Most museums I had been to had little artifacts of everyday life and then a few select prominent pieces but rare was the small, seemingly ordinary artifact in the V&A Museum, instead it housed the finest of the fine, at least in my mind. I spent a considerable amount of time specifically in the gallery devoted to Victorian England and finally I could really see it. In class we had spent time talking about the Victorian Era but we discussed social constructs, burial practices, class divides, but we never talked about what it looked like. The gallery of course showed mostly the luxuries of the upper classes and aristocracy so we only really get to see a small portion of what Victorian England was like. I thought about this and realized that poverty tends to look very much the same throughout history whereas the look of privileged life was constantly changing with the fashions and trends. I found this museum to be very enlightening to my sense of Englishness because it provided more history and showed international influences through the ages.

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Day 7 “He thinks of all these conjunctions of knowledge and experience, these collisions of what is known and what is felt which flame within the head to create a private vision, but a vision which is coloured by the many visions of other people, by fact and error and received opinion and things remembered and things invented.”

I have to say that City of the Mind is the only novel that I read for this class that I can only vaguely remember the plot to. The way this book is written presents the plot but allows it to be a blurred background to the star of the show: the City of London itself. The novel captured the feel of London perfectly. “If the city were to recount its experience, the ensuing babble would be the talk of everytime and everywhere…” When you travel to a new place it’s easy to take things at face value but this book taught me to look deeper and to see not only a structure but also its history simultaneously. Having those added dimensions in seeing the city made the experience more dynamic and it got me to learn more about Englishness than I think I would have done before.

The Museum of the Docklands was one of my favorite museums that we explored. Just being in the docklands was a shocking sight because my assumptions of what it looked like stemmed from Virginia Woolf’s essay, which did not paint a very pretty picture. When we stepped out of the tube station at Canary Wharf I just stared and finally realized just how well Matthew Halland was doing to be designing a site in the docklands. The Museum of the Docklands showed the history of London through its main entry and exit point: the docks. Before this I hadn’t appreciated the immense importance of the docks in the creation of what we see as London today.

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Day 8 and Day 9


Our weekend excursion to Stonehenge, Avebury, Bath, and Glastonbury was an incredible experience. The time we spent at Stonehenge and what we learned there reminded me of the Victorian era and the obsession with death. This took me right to Highgate Cemetery and what we read in Falling Angels. In someone else’s blog on our excursion to Highgate Cemetery, they described Victorian burial practices in which the deceased person would be removed from the family home feet first to make sure the spirit couldn’t convince someone to follow him to the grave and also so that he couldn’t reenter the home of the living. The Druids would take their dead to Stonehenge by way of the river Avon so that the spirits of the dead would be disoriented by the winding river and wouldn’t be able to find their way back to the land of the living. It’s a fascinating parallel.

Day 10 “Through my gold-tinted Gucci sunglasses, / the sightseers. Big Ben’s quarter chime / strikes the convoy of number 12 buses / that bleeds into the city’s monochrome.”

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Bloodshot Monochrome was an awesome collection of poetry to read and study for class. I think that, more than anything, these poems taught me about human nature and the human condition. The poems are like little windows into a scene of reality, complete with movement, emotion, racism, sexism, and others. The challenge I had with this book was figuring out how to relate it to the theme of the trip: Mapping Englishness. Agbabi’s book is about people, not places – not London specifically. I realized though that having a better understanding of human nature and the people how inhabit a place gives me a better understanding of the place itself.

Day 11

Punting on the Cherwell in Oxford

Punting on the Cherwell in Oxford

Oxford, England. The city dominated by Oxford University’s many Colleges. It was while  on the tour through Magdalen College that I realized how cool a place this is. This city has been a place of scholarship and research for nearly a millennia! It’s original spatial practice remains constant. The ancient higher system of education presented by Oxbridge is iconic of Great Britain, and it seems to me to be one of the few places with an unchanging spatial practice in the entire country (besides the spatiality of aristocratic structures). The structures are created or rebuilt, the way that education works has progressed over time, the people allowed to participate expanded over time, and what is being taught is constantly changing and developing but the scholastic, utilitarian practice of the space remains constant. How many other similarly expansive places can claim the same thing?

Day 12 “Ladies, here’s the shit:”

I enjoyed reading Formerly but admittedly I found it a challenge to relate to our class. Obviously Formerly is specifically about London and a few select places within it but the lack of context about the original places that were written about I found to be a bit frustrating. Formerly gave us a picture and a poetic assumption of what this place was like but after doing some research on the places I discovered that some of her poems didn’t really match the original place. The example that I wrote about in my blog response is probably the one that has the oddest juxtaposition: Quickie Heel Bar, which was a shoe repair place for which Yoseloff wrote a grungy, raunchy poem. Other poems of hers were spot on but when I originally read this collection before the trip I assumed these were slices of reality in the history of these little places in London, albeit with a few creative liberties of what was ‘formerly’ there. It wasn’t until we were in London and I was reviewing for class that I thought to do some research on the places. Perhaps that was Yoseloff’s intention: to encourage people to look past a picture and what is told to us about a place and make our own conclusions. I know that for me, this way I ended up learning more than I might have done before.

Day 13 and Day 14 “I was there. There I was.”

The Greenwich Royal Observatory was very interesting to explore and it’s claim to the Prime Meridian embodies Great Britain’s history of Empire and certainly symbolizes its power and the bragging point that the British Empire was the largest in history. The view made me feel like I was on top of the world (as cliché as that might sound) and it was really wonderful, after being right in the heart of London for nearly two weeks, to be able to step back and see it from a distance. Seeing London from that windy hilltop helped me put some of the pieces together because you can’t build a puzzle if you can only see one piece at a time.

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There But For The. Definitely the oddest novel that I have ever read. Probably one of the first things I learned from this novel has nothing to do with London, spatiality, or Englishness. I learned that apparently it is possible to write a 60+ page dinner party conversation that doesn’t noticeably further the arguably-existent plot without alienating all of your readers. I had a number of challenges with this text; the first being just getting through it. There is so much discourse between the characters; so much banter. There were plenty of parts of this novel that I enjoyed but plenty of parts also frustrated me. After I finished reading it I had absolutely no idea what to say about it so my second challenge was trying to relate it to our class. Throughout our days in London I would occasionally ponder why this book was chosen for the class and as I reviewed notes and flipped through the novel’s pages I began to appreciate There But For The. This story could easily have been set anywhere, so what is important is the social critiques that the author has imbedded into her prose: the consumer-driven culture, the overpowering presence of technology in our lives and the effect it has on human interaction, the complacency, and the oppression of imagination and divergent thinking (such as that which Brooke experiences with her teacher). Reflecting on the book I realized the expanse of the commentary that the author is giving us and the main point, which is constantly driven at throughout the book -especially in the dialogue- is that we need to question something, anything, everything. After realizing this I was able to, for the last few days of our adventure at least, question things more and contemplate them thoroughly. I questioned and contemplated things from my own mindset to the rippling effect of human and commodity migration, from the burial practices of Victorian England to the purely symbolic existence of the royal family today, from Londinium to the massive city before me. Honestly I think this book has helped me, at least a little, to live in the moment and to fight the lazy desire to be complacent and take things at face value.

The Final Days and Conclusions “For this is the city, in which everything is simultaneous. There is no yesterday, nor tomorrow, merely weather, and decay, and construction.” -City of the Mind

Being in London was an unforgettable experience but so was the class. Reading the books was so much more dynamic because we saw London, and London was so much more dynamic because we read the books. I know that all of us students at some point wanted be out exploring more of the city while we were sitting in class or we cursed having to get up early in the morning because we stayed out too late at the pub, but in retrospect I truly believe that the scholarly work we did made the experience more meaningful. We were traveling around the city with a purpose, instead of just randomly sightseeing. I don’t think I would ever have come up with a sense of Englishness without having been in England. About half of my preconceptions of Englishness that I garnered before the trip were obliterated during the trip, and the other half validated by what I experienced.

The Literary London gang and friends at Lord John Russell's

The Literary London gang and friends at Lord John Russell’s (:

The final days in London were hectic and bittersweet as we tried to cram in all the things we had wanted to do and found our ever-growing list far to long to finish. I feel like while I did so much while we were in London and I loved every minute of it, there are thousands of more possibilities, and I can’t wait to go back.


P.S. Thank you so much Dr. McCormick, I learned a lot in your class and I had so much fun on this trip!



Greenwich Royal Observatory

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The Greenwich Royal Observatory is quite an interesting place with an even more interesting past. The observatory’s placement on a steep hill overlooking central London in the distance was been a prime spot for centuries. In ‘There but for the’, Mark makes the hike up to the observatory and gives us a peek at its history, “the writer… described Queen Elizabeth the First, quite unforgettably, dancing in the great hall in her favorite place right there, right here in Greenwich all those hundreds of years ago”. In the time of the Tudors, Greenwich castle stood where the observatory now is. It apparently was used by Henry VIII to house his mistresses. In the 1670s it was proposed that the castle be turned into a royal observatory and King Charles II founded it in 1675. The original part of the observatory, Flamsteed House, was designed by Christopher Wren, a prominent English architect who also designed St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Royal Observatory was the first purpose-built scientific research building in Britain. In its modern form, the Greenwich Royal Observatory houses mainly a museum of the history of astronomy, navigation, and time. The actual scientific work has been moved elsewhere and the observatory is mainly kept as a tourist attraction. The meridian line is marked by a stainless steel band that cuts across the observatory grounds and one of its buildings. There is also an extremely powerful green laser light that the observatory constantly shines along the prime meridian across London. It has been there since 1999. Apparently, on a clear night, the laser can be seen to reach ten miles away. When the weather is overcast, it can reach even further away.

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As we know, the Greenwich Royal Observatory is the site of the Prime Meridian. The prime meridian is a chronological point of reference and was established as a navigational tool for sailors. Sir Georgie Airy, a mathematician and astronomer established the Greenwich meridian in 1851. In the following years, several countries established their own prime meridian so in the 1880s, an International Meridian Conference was held at the request of U.S. President Arthur. At this conference it was decided that the most popular meridian point, the one at Greenwich, would be used internationally. The French, in their historic contrariness to the English, decided to continue using their prime meridian in Paris for the next few decades. However, currently the Greenwich meridian is used internationally.

The Greenwich Royal Observatory was a very interesting place with an astounding view of the city of London and I know, at least for me, it was extremely refreshing to view the city from afar. It provided a fresh prospective after being in the thick of London for nearly two weeks. This excursion helped me map Englishness because, well, this place is all about mapping – mapping the seas and the skies. We saw some good old fashioned British ingenuity and the massive power of the historic British Empire was obvious in all the artifacts and articles around Greenwich Observatory. We could especially see the power and narcissism of the British empire from the simple fact that the Greenwich meridian is used around the world just because the British had the most sway in the popularity of their meridian. Regardless of its reduction from utilitarian to tourist attraction, the Greenwich Royal Observatory was a very cool place.


Highgate Cemetery

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Upon entering Highgate Cemetery for the first time, I was stuck by how natural, overgrown, and cluttered it was. Very different than any cemetery I had been to before. There was a silence there that I hadn’t heard since I had gotten to London. Walking along the narrow pathways, I half-expected Simon Field topeek out from behind a headstone. Kitty Coleman described the cemetery as: “[having] a lugubrious charm, with its banks of graves stacked on top of one another – granite headstones, Egyptian obelisks, Gothic spires, plinths topped with columns, weeping ladies, angels, and of course, urns – winding up the hill to the glorious Lebanon cedar at the top”. All these different types of gravestones speak to the evolution of style since Highgate Cemetery’s opening in 1839. One of the controversial parts of Highgate, as illustrated in Falling Angels, is the columbarium because it held the ashes of people who had been cremated. Evidence shows that cremation has been used in the disposal of the dead for over 20,000 years, however, regardless of its history, its usage in British polite society was frowned upon for a very long time. The Gothic influence, which is prevalent in the cemetery, came into its own during the Victorian era, when peoplewere obsessed with death and the idea of their own mortality. The Victorian era had a high mortality rate, which translated into an ongoing trend of great ceremonies and lavish memorials to the dead, to -in a sense- immortalize them. Some of these memorials were extremely expensive, costing into the millions to create.

Highgate was formed as one of seven cemeteries, called the ‘Magnificent Seven’, established around the outside  of central London in the 1800s to alleviate the overcrowded inner-city parish graveyards. 15 acres of the original cemetery was consecrated by the Church of England as an exclusive burial site for its adherents. Another two acres were set aside for Dissenters. Dissenters is “where all the people who are not Church of England are buried”.

The reason this cemetery is so wildand overgrown is because it is a de facto nature preserve. I’m not sure if it was landscaped or tended when it was first opened but now everything that grows in it is there without human influence. It has become a haven for wildlife as well.

As I walked through Highgate Cemetery I thought about the process of grave-digging that is mentioned in Falling Angels. While reading this part in the book I found it difficult to imagine that it was as dangerous as the book suggested, even considering Simon’s father nearly being buried alive and having life-long repercussions of physical and mental damage. However, seeing this cemetery with sections of it being so crowded with plots and how narrow the individual plotscould be made me realize what a task it would be to dig down. When Simon is talking about grave digging with Maude and Lavinia he says that they’ll dig down 17 feet, which would give them enough stacking space for six coffins. I hadn’t known before that people would be buried like this and it was interesting, if not incredibly morbid, to learn that there are about 170,000+ people buried in Highgate, but in only approximately 53,000 graves. Sounds cozy, doesn’t it?

This excursion to Highgate gives us a sense of Englishness because it shows another aspect of English history and the cultural spatial practices of dealing with mortality and the dead.


Museum of London Docklands

The Museum of the London Docklands was a very interesting excursion. If we hadn’t gone there I’m not sure I would have seen the docklands which would have left me with a skewed image of this section of London. Before our excursion the only things I knew about the docklands was what Virginia Woolf said about them in her 80+ year old series of essays ‘The London Scenes’. Equipped with Woolf’s descriptions I can say that stepping out of the tube system and seeing the modern day docklands was a shocking moment. Woolf had stated in the 1930s that the docklands was an unpleasant place that was dirty and smelled bad. The docklands of today are honestly the largest, cleanest, fanciest business district I have ever seen.

It was when I saw what the docklands are like now that helped me see City of the Mind better. Matthew Halland’s project at the docklands had been difficult to picture without warehouses, cranes, and barges (which are certainly there but not the focus) but when I walked down a concrete courtyard flanked by massive steel buildings covered in spotless glass and nearly tripped over a precisely cut out strip in the ground that allowed a thin, straight trail of water to run down the courtyard for no apparent reason, I realized how immensely lucrative this place is and how well Halland must have been doing as an architect.

The docklands is quite a different place than what Woolf described and the museum of the Docklands taught me about this dramatic change. I think I can speculate that the docklands would not be what they are today without what happened in World War II. Progress that reflected the changing times might have been significantly slower had a large portion of the docks not been destroyed by bombs in the London Blitz of the early 1940s. The Germans strategically heavily bombed the docks of London which they knew would be economically devastating for the British. This situation of having to rebuild certainly would have accelerated the process of change into what we see as the docklands now.

In the museum, the first thing you learn about, obviously, is Londinium and its creation by the Romans. The Romans had created a port along the Thames as a supply base they called Londinium in AD 50. They continued to defeat the native Britons and soon established a town at the port of Londinium. As a plaque at the museum says, “In AD 60, the Roman writer Tacitus, described Londinium as ‘an important centre for merchants and merchandise’.” So even since its inception, London has been an important port of trade, though now its main function is simply importing goods. Reading about this gave me a better idea of what Londinium would have looked and been like in The Emperor’s Babe.

As we know, London’s massive expansion from these humble beginnings turned Britain into a formidable empire, one of the biggest in the world. Further along in the museum I found a drawing from 1805 that embodies the Britain’s global influence, and its narcissism. The following picture is an “Emblematic Representation of Commerce and Plenty Presenting the City of London with the Riches of the Four Quarters of the World”. As you can see, the four corners of the world are presented in the drawing as very small people implying that Britain is literally bigger and better. I found it extremely interesting that the three main figures in the drawing, ‘Commerce’, ‘Plenty’, and ‘The City of London’ are all women. As I could find no information on this drawing at allWhat do you suppose this means in an England of 1805? As I could find no further information on this drawing at all, I’ll leave it as food for thought…





There But For The – The Burning Question

‘There but for the’ by Ali Smith is a unique read about a group of vaguely inter-related people in Greenwich. The book has achieved critical acclaim as well as garnered a wide readership who find this book anywhere from delightful to extremely irritating. The wandering prose, lack of traditional plot, very lengthy conversations that don’t further the plot in any discernible way, and the extensive philosophical consideration into what most would consider trivial aspects of words are not even at the top of the list for the causes of irritation and frustration. The overarching complaint about ‘There but for the’ is the fact that it never explains why Miles Garth, the character around which the other characters move, locked himself in an upstairs bedroom of a strangers house. In this post, I will explore this burning question.

After I finished reading this novel I found myself flipping through the last few pages of the book for several minutes, swearing that I had missed something. What I was looking for was perhaps not a clear, simple explanation for Miles’ strange behavior but maybe I would find the answer in the subtext. I couldn’t find anything that would make sense as an explanation. I then had to turn to the idea that the Miles situation is just a literary device used to explore how people are effected by such a strange occurrence. Gen and Eric Lee, after complaining about the intrusion for quite some time, eventually begin capitalizing on it and continue to do so even when they know that Miles has left. In an article she writes about the now-famous Miles situation, Gen says, “Perhaps in some ways metaphorically we are all like this man ‘Milo’ – all of us locked in a room in a house belonging to strangers”. This gives us a bit to think about but doesn’t explain anything. There are also the people who create a kind of cult of personality around Miles because they think he’s something special. They turn him into the hero of an unknown, undecided, unspoken and individualized cause. The media have a frenzy with Miles and they even change his name to Milo because “It’s catchier… Milo, where Miles sound a bit, well, wet. A bit middle class, you know?”

I searched the web for people’s thoughts on the book and I found one review that I considered particularly insightful. “Broken down into four sections titled There, But, For, and The, it tells an abstract story that questions the meaning of those words. Which may seem slight at first (Duh!), except it’s not. Like the puns that the child Brooke is obsessed with, the book convinces us that semantics matter, words matter. And what seems an unlikely story about a man who’s locked himself into a room is really a story about how we label our world. Which is really a story about how we think about the world. Which is really about if we can even think about the world (or know it)”.

We as readers are used to having everything handed to us and explained. We are used to closing a book and having a sense of closure and finality. ‘There but for the’ doesn’t provide this, it gives us more questions than answers because it’s a story about questions isn’t it? Ali Smith questions everything, even the most basic, fundamental, and overlooked part of questions: the words. It seems that while we and the characters watch Miles in an attempt to find reason so we can ‘label’ accordingly, Ali Smith is watching and questioning the spatial politics that stem from the situation and our desire to make sense of everything. Thus I also think Smith is examining and questioning human nature itself.

Ali Smith never gave us a reason for Miles’ decision to lock himself in the spare bedroom of a stranger’s house and I realize now that this is intentional. Smith doesn’t want to take us through a wandering journey of contemplation just to give us the answers in the end, she wants us to carry these burning questions with us so we don’t just observe, we actively engage with our surroundings.

Website I found the review on:


The Mara Crossing and Foreign Englishness

The Mara Crossing, by Ruth Padel, details the expansive topic of migration. This includes cell, insect, animal, plant, and human migration, as well as migratory evolution, and the science, context, and/or background of all these things. I decided to look at the idea of Englishness through the lens of human movement and foreign elements in conjunction with ‘The Docks of London’ essay in Woolf’s ‘The London Scenes’ and also with consideration to a poem briefly mentioned in class, ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke. These three sources I believe can give a sense of Foreign Englishness.

The Mara Crossing begins its journey by anchoring itself in London saying, “London is immigrant city… [it] was created by migration”. From my own experience of being in London, I know how true this is having met and seen much an incredible variety of people living there. I believe, however, that this quote can extend beyond just the migration of people to include the movement of foreign physical objects as well as unseen, but certainly not unfelt, spheres of influence. In the essay on the Docklands in ‘The London Scenes’, Woolf describes the place thus: “One hears the roar and the resonance of London itself”. Woolf is basically saying that the convergence of foreign commodities on this place of commerce are a defining element of Englishness.

Padel’s books states that, “Bird migration is the heartbeat of the planet… millions of birds are weaving the world together all the time”. Certainly this quote can be translated into the modern human realities of fast-paced shipping routes and the interconnectivity the internet brings us and can change to mean that every space is constantly influencing the spaces it’s connected to, or “weaving the world together”. Padel herself says in her poem ‘Flight of the Apple’, “Because everyone, given time, / changes everyone else”. This constant change and movement is another form of migration, it “is part of the restless, constantly self-renewing nature of all life, in creative tension between the fixed and the wandering” (Padel). This statement compliments a statement that Woolf makes in her Docklands essay, “The only thing, one comes to feel, that can change the routine of the docks is a change in ourselves”. The constant change the docklands see is simply the “wandering” nature of life as people are effected by new, foreign influences.

Thus far we’ve delved into the effect of foreign elements on a sense of Englishness but what about vice versa? In 1914 Rupert Brooke touched upon this very subject in his poem ‘The Soldier’.

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Our class’s study of spatiality comes to mind while reading this poem because Rupert Brooke is quite literally a foreign element in a land that is not England. Brooke is saying that if he should die there, his Englishness – his English identity – would forever alter the spatial practice of the piece of land where he is buried, “there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England”. He is saying that he would become part of the history and he would influence that place. This gives us another sense of Foreign Englishness.

We’ve been told by our readings that it is essential to keep history in mind whilst trying to gain an understanding of Englishness but I also believe that one must also keep in mind both the historical foreign influences and also the ever-occurring ones. The world is ever changing – ever migrating like Padel says and it’s safe to say that it’s ever weaving together through intersecting influences. This gives us a sense of Foreign Englishness but also begs the question: Will the world someday reach a state of cultural equilibrium? Just food for thought…


Bloodshot Monochrome

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Patience Agbabi’s Bloodshot Monochrome is a collection of poetry that highlights social and political issues, captures and considers moments in time through long-dead authors, and offers readers a diverse sampling of the author’s views of life in a variety of places. It’s obvious from Agbabi’s poetry that the color of her skin was sometimes a struggle to deal with in certain social climates so one of the prevalent themes in her collection is racism.

Agbabi was born in London to Nigerian parents and lived there for years before moving to Wales. The title of her book Bloodshot Monochrome, alludes to a color-conscious theme that runs throughout the collection that stems from her life experience. The first poem “Seeing Red” continuously contrasts black and white, separates them, and though in the poem the colors don’t specifically signify people, you realize the intention of the contrasts in the line: “…I see the world through a red eye / where blood and heart mean more than black and white”. This line makes clear that the black and white objects are people, whom Agbabi is saying should be judged by what’s inside rather than by skin color.

One of Agbabi’s poems presents an encounter two young women have with racism. “Parce qu’elle est noire (translated: “because she is black”), delivered at such speed and with such hatred it stung me: to encounter such rage; more, for being judged solely by colour”. This sonnet shows Agbabi’s frustration with racism but there is another part of the fictional encounter that she deems even worse. The young woman who was verbally attacked refused to translate his words, to which Agbabi writes: “that’s the killer, / her silence, like a shroud”. Agbabi is bringing these topics to light because she recognizes the importance of having open discourse about them.

The Problem Pages discuss racism on the “Knew White Speech” page. This instance in particular hits home for Agbabi because in this problem page Agbabi writes from the perspective of Gwendolyn Brooks, a black poet who, like Agbabi, used the sonnet – a “traditional white form”. Brooks received flack for this from the black community, as might have Agbabi herself to some degree. In Brooks‘ letter to Agbabi she says, “I’ve been accused of degrading the sonnet with black, anti-war propaganda: and of not being black enough!”  In an interview Agbabi talked about this very problem when asked about the “Knew White Speech” problem page. She said, “Throughout literary history there are fashions and fads. For black writers these tend to coincide with political history e.g. after Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the Black Power salute on the Olympic rostrum in 1968, it was a signal for black people to celebrate black culture”. In the problem page, her answer to Brooks is, “[Some say] that blackpoet+sonnet=sellout… It’s literary skill that counts”. From Agbabi’s little niche in the London poetry scene, she says she hasn’t seen that the controversy of black people using “white forms” still exists but does recognize that it probably does outside of the liberal London scene.

Agbabi did an interview in 2012 about her works and writing style. One of the questions asked was how her gender and race effect her view on the world and subsequently her poetry. She replied, “Yes, I think race and gender do affect my work… In the 80s and 90s there was lots of pressure on Black poets and/or women poets to reflect their politics and ‘positive images of black people/women”. Agbabi continues on to say that in her first book she was very color conscious in the sense that she wanted to portray black people in only a positive light. Her later books have a “much broader range” because she began to “let the characters speak for themselves”, regardless of whether the characters are ‘speaking’ good or bad things and regardless of their skin color. Thus Bloodshot Monochrome has a large cast of characters that show the author’s understanding that the bad elements of human nature are universal, as are the good.

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