London’s Layers

Formerly” refers to what used to be, the past. The idea of “Formerly” by Tamar Yoseloff is what used to be in London is often no longer around, or at least is not the same. Each poem shows how London has changed over the years. “Final Clearance” says it.

Fin, Fine, End, that’s all.

It’s clear that once upon a time

you were the life and soul,

the duke of blue o’clock.

Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre

The Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, as well as other locations in Formerly have changed significantly over the years. This one has changed the most though, as it isn’t even the same store anymore. This can and does happen anywhere in the world; not just London. While I can see how London has changed, I don’t see a “former London” per say. I see London in layers. It is a major contrast from New York City, where if something gets too old, they tear it down and build something newer in its place. Instead, I see a newer London built on top of a former London.

In Piccadilly Circus, for example, some years ago there were old buildings with blank faces. They neighbored newer buildings. However, now those older buildings have large TV monitors over what used to be bare faces. I wouldn’t see this as what was formerly London being changed into a new London, but instead the former London and the newer London coinciding with each other. The former London is still there. However, now it has a layer of new London on top of it.

This idea can be found all over London. Really anywhere you go in London, you can see how the old buildings still stand in their place. But of course on top of those, you can see the newer buildings. They stand taller, and are made to look more modern.  While the two coexist, they are still layered, separated from each other.

Formerly” really sums it all up. The poem itself has a line from each poem before it, which I feel is more than just poetic. This symbolizes how everything over the years comes together to form London. And the picture really shows how London is both new and old. The wall and the sign is still the same, but now a satellite dish has been added to it.

I loved how with this book we were able to actually see it everywhere in London. You could see how London has been changing. There was also a lot of construction, where they were building on top of was is pre-existing. But I think the part that impacted me the most is actually seeing one of the places that was discussed in the book. I ran into the “duk of gton” and if I hadn’t read this book, I wouldn’t realize what was significant about it now reading “duk of on”. I think this is an example of the old and new intertwining. This place of the past is still changing. Even the name isn’t the same anymore! I wonder where the letters go when they fall off.


London Skyline


“Duk of gton:” Pushing the Boundaries of the Written and the Visual, Through the Underbelly of London


When I was reading Tamar Yoseloff’s Formerly, I thought it was amazing how the photographic images could relate to the words represented in each poem.  Out of all of the poems, “Duk of      gton,” presents an incredible relationship with the visual and the written.  For example, these missing words that originally spelled out “Duke of Wellington” now spell out what is left which show a look at the deterioration of parts of London that have gone unnoticed.  In addition, the words correlate well with this image of a deteriorating part of London.

In the beginning of this poem, is where I felt that this poem’s relation to the image emphasized the best lines in this poem.  The beginning text says:

“Gone, the days of ho fun duck,

back of his truck fooling around,

white guy funk, goon squad drunks

a ton of laughs I nearly puked,

Forgotten in the glummy…” (Sonnet 6)

These words express a dark and melancholy look at the deterioration of this historic billboard.  To conclude, this poem not only shows that this is infamous structure is not only suffering but also the reason behind this said suffering.  The reason being; the respect Londoners have lost for this once beautiful sign.

Collaboration and an Ever Changing City

Through my reading of this collections of poems I was immediately interested in the idea of collaboration and what that means to any medium of art. I was spurred into a frenzy of researching all sort of collaborations between artists of different mediums and found it to be a very intriguing topic.
Most artists, poets, photographers, and musicians rely on connections in order to make their art possible. Whether it is through sponsors, the support of fellow artists, the community, or an institution, connections are essential to the survival of any art.
When I had the opportunity to meet Tamar Yoseloff I was astonished and humbled by the fact that she and her friend just decided to pair up one day and tackle the images of a vast city. The photographs in this collection are mismatched images that collectively tell a narrative. Yoseloff took those photographs and added new depth and narrative to it. This coming together of ideas works beautifully! Even a mannequin in a store front takes on new meaning and has a story to tell through poetry.
I felt like a 21st century Virginia Woolf when I was reading these poems, they spoke to the senses and allowed me to take in the images in real time as I walked through the London streets. I even, by chance, ran into the Duk of gton, but this time it read Duk of on! If that isn’t a beautiful example of the progress, and decay of a city, I don’t know what is.

Take a moment to consider the title, Formerly. Formerly implies a past but it also suggests that the past is unlike the present. In our present, in London in particular, we have new building going up where old buildings used to stand. There are store fronts being changed and refurbished or left to decay. As you walk through London you can see all these things surrounding you and these two women took these images and found a purpose in them. Everyone and everything has a past, a present, a future. It is beautiful when someone captures the ‘now’ while still acknowledging that the ‘now’ will soon be the ‘formerly’.
When art intersects it allows for a collaboration that can benefit all. It makes the artistic goal a more achievable one and allows for a community. I was so inspired by these women. I think that out of all the books and poems we have read, this one has been the most poignant in capturing ‘women writing London’. This collection is not afraid to show the grit, dirt, and language of our age. These women hid nothing from sight, instead they exposed London as a real city. A city that is ever changing but is constantly reminded of it former self.
Of all the collaborations that are possible, the combination of the visual and the verbal speaks so clearly to the everyday person. We experience visual and verbal every day, all day. I raise my glass to Yoseloff and Macdonald!

Here are some links to other inspiring collaborations of art

“Formerly” By: Tamar, Yoseloff

“Formerly” By: Tamar, Yoseloff


There are many specific references for “Mapping Englishness” located in Tamar, Yoseloff’s book of poems called “Formerly”. The “Duk of gton” explains how this space affected the character in the poem. This space provided the character with a memory. I think that the picture in the poem itself is a good indicator that this poem was set for a memory. It visually shows words on the building not being there which means they have fallen over time. It also shows how the building is turning into history and just a memory and the character is having a hard time letting go. On page six it states, “Gone, the days of ho fun duck, back of the truck fooling around, white guy funk, goon squad drunks, a ton of laughs.” This poem tells about the space a person had that was once a place of happiness but now overtime has made the person feel an “ache in their brain”. Throughout the novel there are all different sort of pictures and poems that reflect the picture being shown.  Each picture is in black and white almost as if it is reflecting a memory or it is taken place from a while ago. The novel itself even goes with an “off the map, exhibition” booklet where you can actually go to travel and see all of the sights. This is an extreme literal meaning of “Mapping Englishness”. I like that in the booklet it shows the difference a few years can make of a space like a building. When we met her and the author spoke to us, she even talked about how some of the buildings were not even around anymore. I believe that each poem is reflecting some sort of background of the space in the picture.


The poem, “Capacity House” on page one, describes a little apartment building that cannot take much room. It states, “Fat chance you’ll ever break out of here, this depository for great mistakes, you’ve made your home. Just enough room for a bad and a stool, a cell of sorts, for a man of thin means. Lean times.” This is describing (to me) a person who can no longer financially support him or herself and are going through a rough time. I think that it is saying that it is going to be a very hard struggle for this person and will be hard for them to get out, and find a more positive space to live. The picture itself shows how the apartment is physically very small and would be a difficult space to live in. In her booklet Tamar, Yoseloff describes a little more in detail about the picture and its poetic meaning. “Crammed down a narrow side street tower near Tower Bridge, in 2002 this had been a mailing house for over 30 years.” Then her poetic meaning to the picture was, “ My poem developed from a play on the name, a place that looks like less than its moniker suggests. I conjure a relationship between two people who’ve come to the end of the road.”

I believe these specific landmarks are a way to Map Englishness because it describes actual spaces in the City of London itself. It references these specific places and how they are affecting their society and people around them.



The collection of poems Formerly by Tamar Yoseloff looks at locations in London of buildings or sights that have fallen to disrepair. One of the things that stuck me about the subject matter is that it is not very often that we dwell on things that have been abandoned or forgotten. Therefore for there to be a collection of fourteen poems highlighting the forgotten is impressive to me. In the Afterward Yoseloff states that, “London is full of these locations, and mostly we walk past, too distracted to question what happened there and when.”

This interest with the forgotten being said, one of the poems that struck me was “Sacred to the Memory.” This poem features the derelict grave stones, that hold the memory of the people that they were erected in on honor of. The poem states, “We speak/ in memory, its frail lace, honour/ what has turned to dust; we honour/ stone. Even stone will turn to dust/ where all around us is erased,” this line serve a haunting reminder to the reader that everything will eventually have changed and be forgotten. Either large amounts of time or air pollution erase the memories of the individuals that these headstones mark. One of the reasons that this poem struck me so much is possibly because as of lately I have been frequenting cemeteries, just as a beautiful place for a walk. In several of my visits I have noticed how there are gravestones that are falling apart and you are no longer able to read the inscription, next to stones that are well maintained with fresh flowers from frequent visitors. It is interesting to look at who gets remembered and who gets forgotten. Yoseloff in this poem looks at the individuals that were forgotten, and gives them the moment to share their memory.

Another one of the poems from this collection that fascinated me was “Quickie Heel Bar.” This poem interested me because Yoseloff was able to get inspiration form the abandoned place to create a character who this poem is about. The poem is express this character through the lines, “I’m your Cyrano without the hooter,/ your Romeo with a better future,/ your Casanova with a Rolodex, your Ronaldo with Italian trends.” This allows for the reader to get a grasp of what type of character they are reading. The character reminds you of a guy that is trying to pick you up at a bar, prowling the clubs looking for someone to take back with him. The lines show that this character is talking himself up and making him seem desirable to the women he is trying to bring back. This character wants something that is quick and easy. In the packet of information about each of the poems Yoseloff stated while writing this poem, “We kept encountering quick London in our ramblings… cheap, fast, throwaway, so the word returns later in the sequence.” This is one of the overall themes of this collection is how fast and ever changing locations like London are. Because these locations are disappear and fall into disrepair as the new and fast pace world moves on, it is important that Tamar Yoseloff and Vici MacDonald look to capture the moments before they completely disappear.

This collection of poems forces you to pay attention to places that due to the busy London life are typically over looked.



“Fat chance you’ll ever break out of here”


Formely is a collection of poems infused with images created by Tamar Yoseloff and Vici MacDonald. The photos are a collection of pictures from different places in London taken by MacDonal, which Yoseloff then added poetry to. The poems create a space around the pictures and bring meaning to each of the photos that were taken.  The speakers created in the poems embody a variety of different types of people, rather than following one character through all these spaces. Yoseloff evokes a plethora of different speakers, both ones who are partaking in actions created in these spaces and ones who are making a commentary of the actions. In “Quickie Heel Bar,” Yoseloff creates a speaker that makes a commentary to women who are trying to coerce male attention by making themselves look like sexual objects. The speaker states “Ladies, here’s the shit: / your skirt’s so tight you can barely walk, / your stillies clack clack like a ticking clock” (“Quickie Heel Bar” 1-3). The speaker believes that women should not degrade themselves by wearing clothes that make them uncomfortable just to feel worthy of a male’s attention. The backhanded comments made throughout the poem allude to the idea that these women are too smart to be dressing and acting in these manners just to fit in. However, in “Limehouse Cut” the speaker then embodies a person who has been hurt by a significant other  and feels the need to try to live up to something in order to impress that person. The speaker states, “I haunt abandoned lots, urinal stalls, / anywhere that bears your mark (the flick / of the switch and then the dark, the quickie fuck)” (“Limehouse Cut” 3-5). In this poem, the reader sees the opposite side of the field that “Quickie Heel Bar” was looking at. The speaker is hurt and “stuck / in the past” (“Limehouse Cut” 8-9), instead of feeling empowered in this space the speaker feels belittled and trapped. By speaking from the perspective of both these characters, Yoseloff is showing that we all have the chance to embody these different types of people, the hurt and the powerful, but it appears to depend on the mindset. However, many of the poems do tend to embrace the feeling of being trapped within a space. In “Whitechapel,” for example, the speaker states that “the trees imprison me, rigid wardens. / I match them in my stillness” (1-2) and goes on to states “they carry omens / in their leaves. I cannot leave” (4-5). The need to break free of spaces shows that we attribute spaces to certain mindsets. However, London’s ability to be broken apart and placed back together is echoed through the structure of the poems, Yoseloff portrays this “through the recycling of lines from the first 13 sonnets in the final poem, [showing] the transformative power of the city” (“Town Called Malice – Formerly by Tamar Yoseloff and Vici MacDonald” John Field). The ability to change speakers, perspectives, and stances of power are echoed in the city’s ability to fall apart and be repaired into something greater.

Interesting Links:

Reviews and quotes on Formerly

Some of Vici MacDonald’s other work

Formerly exhibition

Quickie Heel Bar

Formerly is an excellent multi-media collaboration between photographer Vici MacDonald and poet Tamar Yoseloff. The collection of pictures and their accompanying poems show unassuming, unknown places in London. I say unassuming in regards to the photos only; the poems, however, assume quite a bit about the subjects of the photos. While reading this collection my curiosity was peaked; I wanted to know what these places in the photos actually were in comparison to what the poems implied. The photos and poems I found most intriguing were ‘Quickie Heel Bar’ and “Capacity House”.

Screen shot 2013-07-26 at 3.15.39 PM

Quickie Heel Bar is a raunchy, raw poem written by Tamar Yoseloff. It begins with a disturbing sense of honesty that doesn’t mince words. “Ladies, here’s the shit: / your skirt’s so tight you can barely walk…” It continues on to embody the term in the sign ‘quickie’: “I can go all night like the Duracell Bunny… I’ll make you ring a ding ding”. There is a somewhat grimy, cheap feeling accompanying this poem that matches the sign in the picture. Yoseloff got her inspiration for the poem from the sexual slang meaning of the word ‘quickie’, and also ‘bar’. Yoseloff says in her field notes that she meant her poem to invoke a sense of the “cheap, fast, throwaway”.

Several of MacDonald’s and Yoseloff’s field notes tell us what we are seeing in the picture as opposed to the artistic interpretation in the poem but the only information was on the building’s renovation into a store, specifically a “House of Fashion and Mobile Accessories”. I found the following picture on Google street view.

Screen shot 2013-07-26 at 3.11.52 PM

After multiple searches on google and through the London yellow pages, I found that the “Quickie Heel Bar” was, for years until 2002, a shoe repair shop. Rather a strange juxtaposition: a picture of a shoe repair shop and a raunchy, suggestive poem.

Tamar Yoseloff and Vici MacDonald are writing London in a way that echoes what I discussed in my post about City of the Mind: architectonic time. Like Matthew Halland, these two women are seeing a remnant of a former London and Yoseloff is imagining and writing a scene that might have happened there long ago.

This collection of poetry helped me to gain a better understanding of Englishness simply because not only did I learn little tidbits of social practices through the poems, it compelled me to do my own research. Fact is, this book provided me with more questions than answers so instead of taking things at face value, I dug deeper and discovered more to find the answers.