Museum of London: Old & New


Sriracha sauce, yum!

Visiting the Museum of London was a a unique museum experience compared to the other “traditional” museum we visited (or I’ve been to on my own). The London exhibit had recently been redone and the result was gorgeous! What the museum had done was talked to the youth in London about their understanding of London and take that information to form the exhibit around. This picture above was from a window that dealt with trade, and the sign reads “Much like today, goods were imported to Roman London from all over the world. Now almost everything has become mass-produced. Packaging tends to be made form plastic. Could you imagine carrying lots of heavy clay and glass jars home from the shops?” Inside of the glass was a collection of what the students that helped revamp the exhibit thought we would trade today. Seeing the bottles of sriracha sauce, olive oil and soy sauce mixed in with the clay pots (in the bottom left of the photo) was a strange sight. The juxtaposition between what was traded years ago and what might be traded today felt strange. It made me think about what we give value today as opposed to what used to be given that much value.

A few windows down from the bottles of sauces was a television screen with speakers emitting loud shouts! I took a closer look and watched a contemporary play on Roman Gladiators. Students were dressed up in Roman outfits and “covering” the Roman Gladiators as if it was a television show. There were also people dressed up and mock fighting; it was hilarious! Again I saw a contemporary play on something of history. It was weird at first to have a mock newscaster covering the gladiators, but then it started to be funny and make a lot of sense. By revamping and tweaking the historical context, it became more interesting to watch and I learned more about the gladiators from those few minutes on the television (there were facts thrown in there, it wasn’t just for entertainment value!) than I have from textbooks. It was more memorable.

Backtracking to the beginning of the London exhibit in the museum, I found one of Bernardine Evaristo’s poems on the wall. DSC_0037It reads:

Some nights we’d go to the river, sit on the beach,
look out towards the marshy islands of Southwark,

and beyond to the jungle that was Britannia,
teeming with spirits and untamed humans.

We’d try to imagine the world beyond the city, that country a lifetime away…

Bernardine Evaristo’s poetry is another instance where the museum is trying to have contemporary people interact with history in order to speak to our society. This poem is titled “AD50” and gives a human aspect, a human voice, to a history that at times seems flat and something difficult to interact with. The entire London exhibit breathes life into history that seems stagnant and hard to relate to. Evaristo does this as well in The Emperor’s Babe. She plays around with multiple languages (some old, some still in use) and adds in bits of modern slang that’s been coined within the past few years. We learned that Evaristo worked at the Museum of London in the Poetry Society, and it was clear the influence that she had on the museum and the museum had on her writing as well. Walking around London, through the museums and pubs and tourist sites, it’s clear that history is still alive in many ways today; it’s an integral part of Englishness.


Heraclitus and City of the Mind

“You cannot step twice into the same river, and yet you do. It has carried you away, and yet you stand on the bank, looking at the point of your own departure” (21).
This excerpt aligns Matthew’s struggle with perception and understanding of London to the ideas of 5th century BCE philosopher Heraclitus. Heraclitus theorized that the universe was in a state of constant flux, that is was ever-changing. This line that Matthew says in the novel is Heraclitus’ phrase exactly. What is interesting though is that the subject of change is inverted between Heraclitus’ philosophy and Matthew’s.
If we visualize Heraclitus’ statement, the self is consistently identifiable. The molecules of water that touched your feet when you first put them in flow down the river, into oceans, replaced by new water from countless places, but somehow the river is still the same river. Conversely, the consistency of the self is not considered in Heraclitus’ explanation. The self remains to observe the subjective nature of the ever-changing river.

Lively shows Matthew’s experience with the problem in a different light, when she writes “‘this is a pile of bricks. Carefully arranged bricks, I grant you, but a pile of bricks none the less. You may call it a late Georgian house with a neo-classical portico and Coade stone dressings. Others might just call it a house. A Martian would call it a pile of bricks, if he had got as far as identifying a pile or a brick’” (p. 26). Here, the external realm is constant. The “pile of bricks” remains physically the same, but instead reflects the fluctuations of the ever-changing consciousnesses of the people around it. The people in City of the Mind are Heraclitus’ river; the rest of the world, such as architecture, is Heraclitus’ self. The pile of bricks appears to change according to how people perceive it, and eventually does change according to architectural need, both of which are necessary attributes of the people, not of the building itself. Matthew constantly struggles with the idea that he and his ex wife were once good for each other, but then, suddenly, they weren’t. The marriage was an institution, a pile of bricks, something he could identify, but he and his wife are people with fluctuating needs and perceptions.
Matthew states at several points that great architecture arises out of utility. The inevitable failure of their marriage was a simple failure for the structure of the marriage needed to change because of the changing needs, the utility. One half is lost down the river, because neither will ever change at the same rate – and as Heraclitus made clear, change exists. Matthew sees the city work the same way. Although he describes it as an organic being, it only appears so because it must adapt in utility. He himself is in the business of re-purposing buildings that can no longer function as they were originally intended to, and it takes phenomenal effort to change these buildings. If the body is controlled by the needs of the mind, and the city functions for the needs of the body of the people, then the city must be a function of the mind. Hence the title, City of the Mind (or another interpretation of the title, anyway) !

“Londinium:” The Connection between ‘Romaness’ &; ‘Englishness’ towards Women in “The Emperor’s Babe”

index.jpg2 index

After reading Bernardine Evaristo’s The Emperor’s Babe, I understood how much influence the Roman’s really did have on the people of England today.  I felt that Evaristo did an amazing job at comparing “Londinium” (Rome’s London) to the empire it became. I felt that many of these passage have a great correlation with the two themes of this trip to London that I have been experiencing thus far.  And those are Women in Literature and how they are portrayed and the spatial practices of “Englishness.” To start off with the first theme known as the portrayal of Women is greatly shown in this work.  For example: in one of the proses entitled Osmosis (III), Zuleika, the character all of these proses revolve around, one can see the deceit and betrayal in how her own parents; (especially her father) Of whom became so desperate for money that they would sell their own daughter to Emperor Ceverus:

“Dad looked hurt. They shared

 The same profile, I thought tribal.

‘There are some things

You can only share with your own.

When you’re a slave you dream

of either owning slaves or freeing them.'” (Evaristo 24)

So the question is to this quote would be, what happens when you’re this slave forever? Because I am positive that one would have to be an idiot to not see that this is a slave trade in it’s most depicted definition.

      Another example of this time period’s treatment and portrayal of women can be found at the Victoria & Albert Museum here in London.  Alfred George Steven’s 1855 reproduction of The Rape of Proserpine, depicts the god known as Hades raping the  goddess known as Proserpine.  Showing how disgusting and brutal the Roman system was for Women; and how this abuse of woman would still continue in both depiction and in reality up into more recent years.  With that being said I feel this patriarchy during not only the era of Rome but as well haunted England up into the Middle of the 20th Century is greatly depicted in this amazing work of prose. Furthermore, it discusses a more realistic outlook of the ‘Romaness’ and ‘Englishness’ in terms of their brutal oppression towards women.

Josephine Baker in Patience Agbabi’s Bloodshot Monochrome

My favorite poem in Bloodshot Monochrome was “Josephine Baker Finds Herself.” While reading it the first few times I had no idea that Josephine Baker was a real person and had never read a mirror poem! I couldn’t find a lot of information on mirror poems or that style of poetry, but there is quite a bit of information about Josephine Baker, which really enriched my understanding of Agbabi’s poem.

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker was a performer that became famous during the 1920s. Although she was born in America, she became incredibly famous in France. She was a dancer, entertainer, and also an activist that fought racism in the United States. One of the most interesting bits of information that I found was that after gaining immense fame in France, she returned to America in the 30s to perform, but was rejected because of the heavy racism that existed in America. But Baker was such a strong performer that years later, during the 50s and 60s, she returned to America to fight the racism that existed there, teeming up with the NAACP. Even more impressive is that in 1973 she performed in America again and received a standing ovation. Baker was such a strong and resilient person, I’m upset that I’m only now learning about her!

This video of Baker dancing in a French film in 1927 is a great visual of her work. It was both silly yet provocative, which I believe captures the essence of her as a performer. Watching this video can help someone imagine Baker “crossing the bar like it’s a catwalk” in Agbabi’s poem.

Right in the beginning of Bloodshot Monochrome it says that Agbabi is “renowned for her live performances,” so it was very important to watch her perform at least a few of her poems. I found two versions of “Josephine Baker” that were important to my understanding. The first has Agbabi actually talking about the poem, telling us who Baker is and what “la garconne” means (a “sexually liberated woman” during the 20s); the second is easier to hear and watch Agbabi perform the poem.

Learning what “la garconne” means changed my comprehension of a few lines in the poem. The first stanza reads uses the saying by reading “La Garconne, fancy a drink?” and the capitalization could mean that is the name of the club that the narrator is in, whereas in the second stanza it’s assumed that the club they were in was named “Lipstick Lesbians.” This distinction has a few possible meanings; how I understand it is that a sexually liberated woman, what la garconne actually means, is misconstrued to mean lesbian, and people with this understanding (usually people that are trying to legitimize the sexual liberation of women) are degrading women such as Baker.   

What I loved about this poem is that Agbabi uses the mirror style to tell a story in just two stanzas. In the first stanza, the narrator is not the one in control of the situation; most of the action is done by the other woman in the poem. The observations and interaction between the two seems to be mainly on the surface and not truly significant. Agbabi finishes the stanza out by writing “she works/ me up and down. I worship/ the way she looks,” summing up the bulk of the interaction between the two voices as the narrator being the powerless one that is worshiping the powerful, in control companion.

The second stanza, being a mirror image of the first, is empowering and is where the narrator finds herself. Since it’s a rewrite of the first stanza, I understood it as the same situation as before but now, Josephine Baker has found control and confidence. One of the most powerful inversions is moving from the first stanza, where the line reads “I’m her light-skinned, negative, / twenty-something, short black wavy-bobbed diva” changes to “twenty-something, short, Black, wavy-bobbed diva: / Vodka on the rocks, I’m her light-skinned negative” in the second stanza. What’s important here is that Baker (who I assume is the narrator) is now identifying as Black and is no longer “negative.” The research I found about the racism and negativity during her first performance in America echoed the description in the first stanza. Agbabi’s poem shows that even sometimes, we are extremely down and in a tough place, but a situation can be flipped on it’s side and become positive once you gain the control back. Josephine Baker did this both in Agbabi’s poem and throughout her career.

The London Eye

This is going to be a tough post, analyzing poetry was never my strong suit- I prefer a more clearcut, forward way of things and poetry doesn’t always provide that- so just bear with me.

I really enjoyed the poetry in Bloodshot Monochrome by Patience Agbabi, there was a gritty realism in all of her poems that really captured my interest and intrigued me. In terms of “Mapping Englishness”, there was one poem that really struck me (in which I’m sure a lot of other people picked up on as well). “The London Eye” is named after the beautiful, gigantic ferris wheel situated on the banks of the River Thames. It is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe and the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom.


What I find most fascinating about this poem is that someone can read it and have no idea what it’s really about (like me) until they do a little digging of their own. I originally wanted to talk about “The Siamese Twins” poem, but couldn’t find any outside information on it and really didn’t have a clear understanding of what I wanted to say. So I started looking up information on the other poems that interested me and that brings me to presently writing about “The London Eye”. What initially attracted me to this poem was the idea of being able to see all of London from The Eye; while heights aren’t everyone’s forte, they would have to admit that being able to see for miles is kind of an amazing thing.

However, upon further inspection, I learned that “The London Eye” is an answer to William Wordsworth’s 1802 sonnet “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge”. I also happened to find a very helpful explanation of the conjunction of these two poems in The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century British and Irish Women’s Poetry edited by Jane Dowson. In this companion, it is stated that Agbabi imagines a blind date with Wordsworth where she shouts out to him as he writes his poem on the bridge: “The aerial view postcard, the man writing/ squat words like black cabs in rush hour.” They enter “cupid’s capsule” and the lines “…a thought bubble/ where I think, ‘Space age!’, and you think, ‘She was late.'” refers to the idea that Agbabi is over 200 years too late to their blind date and by moving anticlockwise, they are brought to 1802, which is when Wordsworth wrote his poem. (“Big Ben strikes six. My SKIN .Beat (TM) blinks, replies/ 18.02. We’re moving anticlockwise.”)

The connections amaze and intrigue me so much because, like I previously said, upon first glance, it’s about a blind date to the London Eye. I can imagine that if someone read this and was a fan of Wordsworth and understood the reference, it would mean all that much more. I think this “writes London” because the London Eye is a landmark that almost everyone is familiar with and is a vital part to the cityscape. You honestly can’t miss the gigantic ferris wheel. It also engages with the way women occupy London and this is explained through an interview with Agbabi herself.

Amaris Gentle: I love your poem ‘The London Eye’. Do you feel that living in London effects us romantically because there is such a diversity of race and culture or do you feel people still stick to what they know?


Patience Agbabi: I don’t live in London any more but yes, it’s a very cosmopolitan city and when I was younger I did find it broadened my horizons and expectations of a partner. I’ve been out with men and women, black and white which may not have happened had I been living in a small village in the middle of nowhere. I found London stimulating as a writer but also found I needed to get away from it once a month to recharge my batteries.

This excerpt illustrates that because London is such a diverse city, it emphasizes and encourages the way people live in it and to take advantage of all of its opportunities. It involves “Mapping Englishness” because it’s an integral part of the city’s layout and the idea that the Eye can connect people that have been in London in the past and who are there presently. There is so much history and culture in the city that it’s hard to ignore all of this when living there or just visiting.

[I also found another interview about Bloodshot Monochrome with Patience Agbabi and, while I didn’t use it, I thought I’d include it for giggles.]

Duk of gton

Sacred to the Memory

Sacred to the Memory

The book of poetry by Tamar Yoseloff was one of the more difficult pieces for me on the syllabus. Analyzing poetry has never been a strong point of mine! For this post, I selected “Sacred to the Memory” and “Duk of      gton” because these were the poems and images that caught my eye the most. I didn’t conduct any real outside research because the pamphlet provided along with the book was information enough!


“Sacred to the Memory” reminded me of Falling Angels, for it’s almost the contemporary update on the state of some of the graves in Chevalier’s novel. Yoseloff says in the pamphlet that this photograph got her thinking about “the notion of what is sacred, and how…pollution and time have wiped some of those inscriptions clean.” After researching and discovering about the elaborate Victorian mourning customs, the current state of these gravestones seems a bit tragic. The poem says how “even stone will turn to dust/ where all around us is erased,” even though the people mourning a loved one that bought the gravestone probably went through a lot of trouble in order to properly mourn and remember the one that is buried. Cemeteries are such an integral part of mourning, whether during the Victorian era or up until fairly recently, that seeing these dilapidated graves reminds us of the inevitability that we will be forgotten. No matter how hard you try to remember someone, whether carve it into stone or write it down, it will not lost. Most of what I know about England prior to this trip is about the history; dead queens and kings and old literature. It seems that England is rich with interesting history and historical figures. But Yoseloff sheds light on some of those insignificant lives that have been forgotten along the way. Yoseloff’s word choice subtly tells us about the state of London she is writing about in these poems. The repetition of “poison air” could signify the pollution she mentions in the pamphlet that is wearing down on these graves. Not only is this pollution degrading the physical tombstones, but it is erasing the names of the people, which is one of the last ties to the living world.

It’s only appropriate that I listen to some Duke Ellington while I write this post, isn’t it? Yoseloff tells the reader that for this poem, she attempted “to stick to the sound patterns of the remaining letters.” I think the poem does so wonderfully, and through this style brings back the feeling of the time period. Words like “ho fun duck” and “goon squad drunks” force the reader into a kind of rhythm that resurrects the forgotten pub. Since no one has tried to do so to the physical pub, for it’s been sitting there for years untouched, through the words Yoseloff finally brings it back to life for a fleeting moment. What’s interesting is that when she wrote the poem, certain letters were still standing on the outside of the pub. But MacDonald says in the pamphlet that “the pub remains defiantly unreconstructed, later becoming Duk of Ton and now On,” which diminishes Yoseloff’s style and again reminds the reader of how we are all subjected to time’s inevitable control.


Both pieces I chose focus on are places that for the most part are untouched and slowly disintegrating. I think it’s eerie and is even more important than the other places in the poetry collection that are being renovated or torn down and turned into something else. It says that not only have they forgotten about you, but the space you occupy isn’t worthy and can just sit and rot. My favorite line from “Duk” reads “don’t even know what’s/ missing, though there’s a hole/ in my heart, an ache in my brain.” This sums up how I believe that Yoseloff and MacDonald feel about these forgotten spaces. These two places barely exist anymore but are important parts of London’s past; even though no one is paying attention to them, their disappearance is felt in everyone. Yoseloff and MacDonald write in the pamphlet how some of the places in the poetry collection couldn’t be explained. Either there is no record of the business a sign if advertising or the names on the graves have been erased. Nevertheless, something is missing. And that something played a part in how London became what it is today.

Mourning in Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels

Jay's Mourning Warehouse

Jay’s Mourning Warehouse

While reading Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier, I was struck by Lavinia Waterhouse’s “The Complete Guide to Mourning Etiquette” found on page 102. Never had I heard of such strict, elaborate steps that people at this point in history followed while mourning. I myself haven’t had to grieve anyone since I was five years old; all I remember is everyone wearing a lot of black and going to church for a while. After completing the novel I decided to do a little research on the Victorian mourning process and found two articles:

The first I found on Chevalier’s website and it more or less summarized the information she provides through the characters in her novel. Chevalier writes that “the rules for who wore what and for how long were complicated, and were outlined in popular journals or household manuals such as The Queen and Cassell’s – both very popular among Victorian housewives” and later notes that “men had it easy.” Returning to the text, we see this present in Lavinia’s “Complete Guide” where there is a page and a half dedicated to how women have to mourn and three lines about how gentlemen are expected to mourn. Now, Chevalier starts the online article by writing that ““mourning clothes were a family’s outward display of their inner feelings,” and I argue that due to the fact that women were expected to go out and buy what sounds like an extensive amount of new, “appropriate” clothing to wear for up to two years (depending on the person she is mourning) and mourn for the longest amount of time, this social practice is perpetuating gender stereotypes.

Since the women wear mourning clothes for longer periods of time and the clothes signify one’s inner grieving, that leads to the idea that women are more emotional and weakened by mourning more than men are. Not only that, but because the information about mourning was provided through magazines mainly read by women (the top of this post features a lovely ad for Jay’s Mourning Warehouse, found in a popular women’s magazine at the time), women were expected to discipline their physical bodies in order to be accepted by society. The theme of body discipline and deviance is mentioned another time throughout the novel, when Kitty Coleman wears an outfit that exposes her legs during the women’s protest. Simon comments that Kitty “wears a short green tunic belted in the middle…She’s got bare legs, from her ankles up to—well, up high…everyone’s staring at Kitty Coleman’s legs” (244). Again, the society is condemning a woman for not disciplining her body to fit into society’s idea of appropriate conduct for a woman.

Keeping in mind that Chevalier is a contemporary author, the significance of focusing on the mourning throughout the novel is quite intriguing. After her sister Ivy’s death, a passage in the novel has Lavinia reflecting on her purchases for the mourning process; in order to properly mourn Ivy, the women purchase two black dresses, one cotton petticoat, two pairs of bloomers, one black hat with a veil, two pairs of gloves, seven handkerchiefs, two hundred sheets of stationery, and one hundred remembrance cards. The second piece I found on the mourning process comments on how “by the  middle of the century, funerals had become such big business.” Chevalier brings to light how ridiculous the grieving process was through Lavinia’s obsession with it, but more importantly comments on how something as personal and sensitive as the mourning process was heavily regulated for businesses to make money. The absurdity of capitalism in London, both during the Victorian Era and today, is evident throughout the novel. Tying it all back to the theme of women writing London and mapping Englishness, Chevalier, through Kitty and the mourning process, sheds light on the discipline society places on women’s bodies. This type of regulation, especially enforced through the fashion industry and advertising, still targets women’s bodies and masks it behind the idea that it’s for the betterment and health of the society.